Chiaroscuro – one of those unusual words for anyone that’s pursued any interest in art history may well have come across. Whilst the word means light-dark in Italian, its use in visual terms points towards the contrast and dialogue between these two extremes. The result of its usage is a major element in giving paintings a three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface.
It’s therefore hugely interesting to consider these themes as both conceptual and structural elements in this new work by Canadian composer Jordan Nobles. Even the sleeve perfectly frames the whole project. A tightly cropped section of the lunar landscape, exposed and battered, crater strewn surface and half lit by the sun in an endless spinning waltz. But the inky black half of the image is no abstract void. It’s simply another part of the surface not picked out by light. The apparent nothing is a definite something.
The title and the sleeve imagery both perfectly frame the music within. The first piece, Chiaroscuro written in 2014 and revised this year, is a precise 30-minute slice of forms that grow like tendrils in a hanging nebulous cloud. There is a drifting beauty that’s like stillness being slowly subjected to the unavoidable passage of time. An ensemble of 20 players and 5 vocalists seamlessly interweaving in a gently repeating and mutating motif.
Whilst it’s easy to see how this piece meditates over the work of Reich and Feldman, the overall mood has the feeling of a balmy night air much like Rafael Toral’s equally sublime, if slightly more abstract Moon Field. The fact that Chiaroscuro fits so exactly as a half hour event begs it to be played out like some sort of kosmic clock, plotting out each earth-based day in 48 perfectly sinuous slices.
The second piece, Pulses, has a more blurred filmic quality. Gentle layers slowly overlapping each other, rippling and morphing in a way that the title ques up. Over its near 15-minute life, time and time again, it accumulates into beautifully pulsing sonic peaks.
Considered as an album, these two pieces form an engrossing listen. Despite the pared back minimal quality at its very heart, Chiaroscuro is full of warmth and beauty as much as of light and shade.
Chiaroscuro is out now on RedShift Records