Maria W Horn – Epistasis LP (HG1904)
Following the success of her 2018 solo debut album »Kontrapoetik,« the Swedish composer Maria W Horn returns with »Epistasis,« her most ambitious record to date. The title track, »Konvektion« and the two parts of »Interlocked Cycles« see the XKatedral co-founder explore radical approaches to composition that combine avantgarde methods with electronic means. While »Kontrapoetik« highlighted Horn’s strength as a conceptual and political artist, »Epistasis« is to be understood as an advanced statement by a forward-thinking composer who throughout four pieces channels her influences, ranging from black metal to minimal music, through state-of-the-art technology.
Originally composed as an audiovisual piece for synchronised multichannel sound and lights and premiered in 2018 at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, »Interlocked Cycles« is a series of pieces exploring a gradual increase in tempo and density using various instruments. It was written to be performed by a computer-controlled upright Disklavier piano while the electronic part was generated within the Supercollider framework using phase modulation synthesis. Navigating between acoustic and electronic sounds, the two parts of »Interlocked Cycles« create a frame for the album by respectively serving as an introduction and coda to Horn’s musical exploration of the notions of authenticity and artificiality.
The nine and a half minute long title track was composed for an eight-voice double string quartet and draws on evolving progressions in F minor that were inspired by the sound and harmonic structures of early nineties doom and black metal music. During the performance of »Epistasis,« which was commissioned by Konstmusiksystrar and premiered by Malvakvartetten at Konserthuset in Stockholm 2018, four parts are played by the string quartet and four parts are played back electronically. Using various amplification techniques, the spectral characteristics of the string instruments are enhanced and distorted and were later on complemented by feedbacking electric guitar overdubs while mixing the piece. The result are densely layered drones that are most unsettling when they are the quietest and reveal their anthemic qualities in their most forceful moments.
The structure of »Konvektion« however takes its cues from a very different field of the musical world. The composition progresses in a way that was inspired by Arvo Pärt’s »Tintinnabuli« technique, where step-by-step diatonic movement interplays with triads to form a complex harmonic function that is still rooted in tonality. Based around four-note chords articulated as dyads and performed by two organists on the same instrument, the duration of each dyad is measured by the individual breaths of the two performers while pitches are predetermined in the score of the piece. The alternating breathing cycles of the performers slowly move the piece forward at a glacial pace. Simultaneously, an electronic part composed of interference tones creating high and low frequency beating patterns gradually unfolds, making »Konvektion« an exercise in minimalism that combines the subtle gravity of Phill Niblock’s work with the visceral theatrality of Anna von Hausswolff’s organ pieces.