The background: ‘Tonaliens is a Berlin-based group investigating the inner dimensions and outer limits of Just Intonation. It was formed in 2014 by Amelia Cuni (voice), Werner Durand (invented wind instruments), Robin Hayward (microtonal tuba), Hilary Jeffery (trombone), and Ralf Meinz (live sound, electronics). The group came together shortly after the release of the software version of the Hayward Tuning Vine, an interface for exploring microtonal tuning that allows for direct and intuitive interaction with the pitches normally hidden between the keys of the piano.’
While whole field of microtonality ventures deep into the technicalities of music which are completely beyond me, despite substantial exposure over the last decade, including works featuring Robin Hayward, who pioneered the microtonal tuba, which has a five-octave range. Consequently, it’s the ‘invented wind instruments’ Werner Durand brings to the party I’m more curious about.
What this all translates as is four longform pieces, one to each side of vinyl on the double album. This means that each is in the region of 20 minutes in duration
‘Vesta (pt 1)’ is built around a long, low drone of wind instruments, heaving and sighing. It groans and hums, drags and wheezes, building a deep, rich rumble of semi-dissonance long before Cuni’s vocal enters the arena. Delicate, graceful, wordless and barely audible, she is herself another instrument. Eerie tones and strange, unconventional notes rise from the air, quivering and quavering. ‘Vesta (pt 2)’ flitters ever upwards and evaporates to vaporous silence before a trilling organ sound becomes the soundscape through which Cuni wanders, lost-sounding and bereft yet strangely at peace, at times affecting an almost traditional folk lilt. Low notes ring out like ships’ horns played back at half-speed.
The second record features the two parts of ‘Pallas’. It may constitute more of the same, but it’s also just adequately different. The mood is lighter, the notes more approximate to musicality and the trilling tonality of, say, pan pipes. The fuzzy, broad notes which spread beneath offer a more conventional ambient feel, and it’s quite pleasant.
Across the spread of the album, not a lot happens. It isn’t supposed to, and it doesn’t need to.