With a contrabass cello in tow, Yair Elazar Glotman – a classically trained composer and Berlin-based sound artist – brings up cyclones of fractious, elemental soundscapes aided by the nous of frequent collaborator and emptyset cohort James Ginzberg. In keeping with the ‘étude’ tradition – an elaborate performance intended as a framework for future virtuosity - Glotman manages to wrench out untold power from skirted wood and plucked string, conjuring up desolate and tempestuous works of haunting dread. It’s this same extent of power which, whilst indicating Glotman’s ability – and therefore staying true to the tradition the LP namechecks – also functions as a point of divergence from such a basis. Mainly because this doesn’t sound like the conventionally respectful relationship between musician and instrument that Glotman’s formal background and this eponymous evocation of tradition might suggest. Instead of the dainty timidity of a paid-up orchestra member reverently and delicately approaching their instrument like a precious object, the sound suggests an instrument pushed to its limit, one that seems constantly on the brink of imminent rupture.
Or at least it seems that way. Close-micing gives every resonance a greater magnification here. The electronic ventures of Glotman and Ginzberg also feed the sense of natural acoustics given abnormal impact. But these tactics are used judiciously. The organic feel of the contrabass still feels like the dominant organ pumping at the heart of these storm-cloud intensities. Imagine Colin Stetson’s brute and breathless work given industrial vigour and sound design refinement by the Stroboscopic Artefacts crew. Or the often bleak, string-led atmospherics of Hildur Gudnadóttir adapted, with a greater emphasis on meticulous recording techniques led by compulsions for electronic embellishments.
Whilst the unwillingness to venture beyond its established (dis)comfort zone is what prevents this from fully staking a place in such aforementioned leagues – staying unvaryingly fixed on a glum path for the duration – there’s still an arresting sense of suspended terror that makes this a prospect worth paying some mind to. That and the instrumental intrepidity of Glotman, who invokes an assaultive performance with a thrilling lack of restraint.
Études is out on July 17th via Subtext Recordings.