Temporality of the Impossible is the first publication emerging from a larger, ongoing project of the same name by the Serbian-born, Brussels-based violinist Dejana Sekulić. The project revolves around recent music that explores the extremity and ambiguity that emerges at the limits of possibility in contemporary violin performance, focusing in particular on repertoire in which the relationship between notation and sound is unconventional, challenging, uncertain, or even confounding, as well as works employing unusual string preparations and tunings. These are works that propose—and at times demand—a reimagining of the role of the interpreter.
The seven works presented on this recording exemplify the probing, investigative nature of Sekulić’s project. These pieces by Clara Iannotta, Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim, Evan Johnson, Cathy Milliken, Aaron Cassidy, and a newly commissioned work for the project by the iconoclastic Italian composer Dario Buccino, bring the raw, quintessential, fragile, and fleeting matter of the violin to the fore, often through novel approaches to the interface between performer, instrument, notation, movement, and sound. With their protean nature, in which the pieces might sound very different from one performance to the next, the function of a recording—which captures only one fixed instantiation—is itself also problematised. Each recording here is a snapshot of only one possible iteration, communicating a particular reading, understanding, and energy of a single moment in time. These recordings are openings.
“Temporality of the Impossible” is an ongoing project focused on pieces for solo violin that intentionally elude and escape the extreme fixity that, at first glance, they seem designed to achieve through their notation. This disc highlights a portion of the works accumulated for that project. These pieces by Clara Iannotta, Dario Buccino, Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim, Evan Johnson, Cathy Milliken, and Aaron Cassidy bring the raw, quintessential, fragile, and fleeting matter of the violin to the fore, often through novel approaches to the interface between performer, instrument, notation, movement, and sound. With their protean nature, in which these pieces might sound very different from one performance to the next, the function of a recording—which captures only one fixed instantiation—is called into question. Each recording here is a snapshot of only one possible iteration, communicating a particular reading, understanding, and energy of a single moment in time. These recordings are openings.
In dead wasps in the jam-jar (i), Clara Iannotta extends the violin with three preparations—metal spiral paperclips placed on two points of the A and D strings, and one on the G string; a metal mute; and a metal thimble—that transform and destabilise the usual relationship between finger, string, and sound. The piece is based on the Courante and Double from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B minor. Iannotta found inspiration in Bach’s scalar runs, which here become glissandi that provide the piece’s driving energy. But the technique of the glissando turns from an action into an object, with fingertips and skin becoming a tactile eardrum for the performer, and, for me, somehow turns sound into touch. What seems like a glissando is instead an extremely fast succession of threaded nodes of the string “playing” the skin of my finger.
Dario Buccino creates his compositions using chance processes and a system he refers to as HN, built on the hic et nunc (here and now) principle. Although extremely challenging, Finalmente il tempo è intero n°16 is a playground for the imagination. Buccino lays out eight identities that intertwine throughout the piece—each has its own clear character (Mute Action, Magical Contribution, Back Voice, Tailpiece, Voice, Pad, Scribble, and MultiVoice) in which the piece’s overarching but deeply hidden melody is developed. When an identity is triggered, it provides a sudden opening to glimpse into its version of the melody. Identities are composed with an extensive set of fixed, hyper-detailed parameters (actions for the left and right hands, and endocorporeal affections) co-existing with indications for applying the HN system, often with up to 16 degrees of difference within each. This requires all elements and parameters of the work to be fully embodied and internalised by the performer. No two interpretations will ever be the same—the difference in outcome arises from the vast pool of possibilities that the HN system gives to the performer to employ and combine different components of an element within an identity in the moment of performance, thus each time arriving at a different sonic outcome.
Hauch by Rebecca Saunders explores the quietest timbral nuances of the highest register of the two lowest violin strings, revealing the fragile voices contained within them. Saunders considers silence the main canvas of the work: each of the piece’s eight sections appears from and disappears into the silence, and each section reveals fragments of the traces of a developing two-part melody. The player’s left hand navigates mostly in the highest positions, often in close proximity to the bow towards the end of the fingerboard, creating an especially delicate relationship between intentions, actions, and outcome. In the performance notes Saunders hints that this tactile conception was the impetus for her imagination, insisting that attention should be paid to “the slightest differentiation of touch on the string; the expansion of the muscles between the shoulder blades.”
With its scordatura, intricate nested and interlaced repetitions, and various distortions and multiphonics, playing Liza Lim’s The Su Song Star Map makes me believe that sound is a gateway to the spacetime continuum. Constantly putting into intimate conversation the rolling depths and darknesses of the low register with harmonics and multiphonics, Lim, inspired by the 11th century star maps, creates a richness of timbres with which she builds a complex sound architecture of the universe. For anyone who wonders how shimmering starlight traveling through vast darkness sounds, The Su Song Star Map offers one possible answer.
The bursting energy that opens Evan Johnson’s Wolke über Bäumen [Clouds above the Trees] captures one’s attention instantly, but it is the following sudden change to subtle breath and mist-like material that really draws me into the piece. Johnson couples a modern violin with gut strings and a baroque bow. This unconventional setup is further destabilised through detuned strings, which are then further altered during the performance. Two layers stand out: chaotic and extremely densely ornamented fragments, and starkly sparse, slow glissando passages. There is a particularly tactile element to the sound, especially in the glissandi, whose extreme quiet allows for the sound of the performer’s fingertips gliding over the roughness of the gut strings to become audible. As the piece unfolds, the slow, quiet passages and silences become shorter, and the energetic—yet still mostly pianissimo—fragments come closer together, delivering a firework of explosive silence.
Cathy Milliken’s Crie for solo violin and voice is a sensitive, turbulent and defiant piece. Milliken draws her inspiration from the life, work, and tragic fate of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The long arch of the piece develops through shorter sections employing different densities of repetition of fragments of a motive. In four instances this arch is interrupted, during which the performer is invited to repeat any sound they remember from what they have already played. Sound abundant with harmonics, multiphonics, and grain complements the sounds of the open strings, and the performer’s own voice surfaces in and out of this sound palette, pleading for awareness for those who have been silenced or who are voiceless. These cries are not tears of surrender, but rather the breath that emerges as their courage begins to awaken.
With its approach to notation, Aaron Cassidy’s The Crutch of Memory—which can be performed on any non-fretted, bowed stringed instrument—is moulded to the performer’s physique. The material here is physical movement: a continuous gliding motion of the left hand over the fingerboard in various changeable finger spacings is combined with a wide range of intensities and energies of the movement of the right hand, creating a situation in which the sonic outcome results from the physical characteristics of the hands of the player. The piece also invites the performer to develop their own re-tuning of the instrument, which inspired me to explore possibilities for widening the range of the violin. In this recording, I have retuned the instrument following the guidance from the score, but I have additionally restrung the violin, combining regular E, A, and G strings with an octave-low D string, thus keeping the high register while expanding its low register.
— Dejana Sekulić