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Introduction Sandglasses - an hour of time slipping by in music

In a moment you will be viewing and listening to Sandglasses, an ‘installation concert’
created by the Lithuanian composer Juste Janulyte and the Italian video artist Luca
Scarzella, performed by four cellists of the Gaida Ensemble with live electronics by
Michele Tadini. In this piece several aspects of Janulyte’s music converge. Writing for
ensembles of identical instruments, using electronics, and a fascination for time. She feels
an affinity with minimal music. Composers active in this style often didn’t focus so much on
the development of musical material, but on the immersion of people in a sonic
environment. They played on the experience of time. Something that is pivotal to ritual
music of non-Western cultures.
Vietnamese Jorai gong row ensemble - field recording

In itself the notion to work with ensembles of similar instruments is not new. It was
common usage in the Renaissance in so-called consort music, which led to the
development of instruments in different registers. The string quartet was a logical
consequence of this. The instruments do differ in timbre, however. You can work your way
around those differences, if you so wish, by putting together ensembles of identical
instruments, and by multiplying instruments through electronic means. This is reminiscent
of a scientific experiment, in which elements remain constant so that effects of certain
changes can be measured. An extreme example of this approach is Al Margolis (working
under the moniker If, Bwana) who constructed a piece in which he built an ensemble of
more than a 100,000 clarinets spanning the entire hearing range, through a judicious use
of cassette and tape recorders.
Clara Nostra - Al Margolis/If, Bwana

This version of the piece was intended as an installation in an elevator taking people to a
floor in a building where an art gallery had organized an exhibition. Multiplying and
layering a single instrument results in a variety that is radically different from that of an
ensemble of mixed instruments. It is as Janulyte puts it ‘monochromatic’. But within the
limits of this one colour a multitude of shades and nuances blooms. The fact that the
differences are less conspicuous influences the experience of the passing of time.
When images are added to such sounds the brain tries hard to connect the two,
regardless whether any perceived connections were originally intended, like in the work of
Phill Niblock who presents his music and films in conjunction. Almost invariably his films
show manual labour that entails repeated movement; the music is a dense layering of
recordings of one single instrument, just as in the Al Margolis piece. Because it integrates
imagery and sound without resorting to a developing story line Phill Niblock’s work can be
designated as an installation. He can and does exhibit his work as such, but more
commonly he presents it in a concert format, with one live musician adding a further layer
to the superimposed sounds. In this sense Janulyte’s Sandglasses is akin to his work. The
following fragment comes from Niblock’s DVD The Movement of People Working, with
footage shot in Mexico and music from an electronically multiplied cello.
Trabajando Una (Mexico)/Summing III (David Gibson, cello) - Phill Niblock

Juste Janulyte writes for ensembles of identical instruments as well, in this piece four
cellos and their electronic shadows. As in Niblock’s work, music and imagery combine into
a unified whole. But Janulyte’s music does have a story line. In Sandglasses it is the
passing of time, unconditionally a constituent part of music as such. In its progression the music expresses how time slips by, as grains of sand sliding down in an hourglass. To introduce you to Janulyte’s sound world, and give you an idea how it differs from what I played before, I will end with an extract from her composition Psalms, written for live and pre-recorded cello. Psalms - Juste Janulyte René van Peer June 7, 2011



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