Bristol-based composer Ryan Teague is one of an increasing number of artists, from Efterklang to Portico Quartet, Ólafur Arnalds to Nils Frahm, successfully operating in the fertile margins between chamber orchestration and electronic processing. This, Teague’s third album of delicately poised, wordless instrumental fare, focuses less on the sweeping, bowed string phalanxes that have characterised his previous releases and errs instead toward the dulcet timbres of glockenspiels, xylophones, marimbas, piano and pizzicato plucking – or electronic approximations thereof.
It’s tempting to label this kind of thing ‘minimalist’ – tempting, but wrong. For while Teague is happy to play with the tuned percussion sounds and polyrhythms so beloved of Steve Reich and the New York minimalist ‘school’, he is clearly less concerned with matters of rhythmic complexity or anything as arid or theoretical as ‘phase shifting’, preferring the emotional tug evoked by the enmeshing of simple, contrapuntal melody lines and the glowing properties of modulating major-to-minor chord sequences set against pretty, arpeggiating note clusters.
Indeed, for all the pointillist precision of Field Drawings’ 12, relatively brief essays, graph paper solemnity is always kept at bay by Teague’s robust approach to melody and his ability to evoke a consistent mood, one that’s neither euphoric nor melancholy but which remains irrefutably ‘heightened’, even dream-like, throughout. This is music of such beautifully non-specific, enigmatic tone that it comes as no surprise to learn that Teague’s compositions are regularly used by TV programme makers and advertisers to enhance their images.
Not that this elegant, fastidiously constructed album could ever be called bland: there’s too much vaulting drama in the opening Shadow Play, alone, for that. It begins like a Michael Nyman film theme running backwards and is then inexorably engulfed by stratus clouds of Arvo Pärt-like legato strings, before a simple, haunting glockenspiel figure guides us toward some ambiguous valediction. The equally impressive Games for Two, all courtly piano and viola interplay, pitches up midway between Philip Glass and Yann Tiersen, while Cascades is a truly gorgeous miniature – simple, crystalline, music-box-like glockenspiels twinkling mellifluously in a round; the musical equivalent of freshly-formed icicles glinting in morning sunlight.
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