Thursday, January 5, 2012

Keeril Makan's Target

Keeril Makan

Unfamiliar with Keeril Makan's name, I was initially attracted to this CD on the strength of violinist Jennifer Choi and cellist Alex Waterman both being involved, and by the fact that the label – Starkland – is usually a safe bet. Even still, I hadn't quite steadied myself for brilliance when I put it on. Makan was born in New Jersey of South African, Indian and Russian-Jewish parentage and studied composition and religion at Oberlin before earning a PhD in composition from University of California -Berkeley. He is a recipient of the Luciano Berio Rome Prize and has been commissioned by Bang on a Can and the American Composer's Orchestra. His work haas been performed at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and the MATA Festival in New York. So maybe I should have heard of him before now.

Target opens with 2, a piece from 1998 for violin and percussion played beautifully by Choi and David Shively. It's a staggering work of precision that doesn't rely on tightly metered phrasing. The initial 17 minutes of varying pulse hypnotize the listener with lulling, only to be broken by a frightful metal-on-metal conclusion. This is followed by a piece for solo cello composed in 2002. At not quite nine minutes, Zones d'accord is the shortest piece on the disc and seems to fly by all too quickly. Waterman executes the textural piece – scored for open strings and harmonics – wonderfully. His touch is crucil and in hs hands the piece hovers, disappearing just as its presence is becoming known.

Taken together, the first two pieces might leave the listener vulnerable, as if a nerve had been exposed – a perfectly raw state for Resonance Alloy from 2004. The half-hour percussion work is an absolutely stunning meditation on rhythm performed by Shively on gong. Makan cites as inspiration for the piece James Tenney's Having Never Written a Single Note for Percussion and Alvin Lucier's Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra, two other pieces of quickly counted repetitions. It's vibrant and surprising, psychedelic in a certain sense, and is the piece that pushes Target into the realm of essential listening.

- Kurt Gottschalk