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Bryn Harrison’s music has often, and understandably, been compared with Morton Feldman’s. But while Harrison admires the latter’s immersive quality, his own music has become progressively less harmonic than Feldman’s. Vessels is about ‘the micro-repetition of intervals, the repetition of phrases and the repetition of sections’, Harrison comments. ‘The music [aims to be] perpetually regenerative… constantly opening up, but then [we find] ourselves in the same space’. Citing artist Bridget Riley, he argues that ‘repetition can [highlight] things that might otherwise go by unnoticed’ – though here, repetitions are never exact. Compared to its inspiration, Howard Skempton’s 2007 string quartet Tendrils, this work seems to favour stasis over movement.

In contrast to the familiar artistic image of organic inevitability, Vessels seems to unfold according to a law of nature, or mathematical equation. It plays with psychoacoustics, perhaps suggesting the Shepard tone, the aural illusion of constantly rising tones – whatever the acoustic facts, there’s always a sense of rising in one part or the other.

Some critics have accused this work of failing to present any listening challenges; of having an almost anaesthetic impact. But this is unfair. Momentum has to be maintained, as it is here by pianist Philip Thomas, who shows immense stamina and concentration over 76 minutes, with a touch of great delicacy. And despite my earlier comments, the irregular, halting rhythms throughout strongly imply a human presence. The result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly novel, paradoxical and intriguing.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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