A Thing Made Whole (KAIROS Music) is an album made up of a cycle of works of the same name, all composed by Andrew Greenwald. It features seven stunning performances by Austin Wulliman, LA-based ensemble Wild Up, Contemporary Insights Ensemble, and Greenwald’s own group Ensemble Pamplemousse. Listeners familiar with Greenwald’s music will surely be pleased with the album as it demonstrates his highly unique and idiosyncratic approach to instrumental writing at the highest level in this riveting cycle of substantial pieces. For those readers and listeners who are unfamiliar, this music will likely be a challenging (though eye-opening) experience, and I recommend any fan of modern music give this album a dedicated listen.
The works present a tapestry of moods, styles and techniques that range from the familiar to the haunting and otherworldly, from serenely beautiful to alluringly grotesque. It is music that is engaging but at times keeps the listener at an arm’s distance, encouraging one to hear and understand while reshaping one’s idea of things like form, structure, musical narrative, and contextualization. It is music to engage with rather than music to simply be enjoyed for its haunting beauty and craftsmanship.
The cycle opens with a violin solo performed magnificently by Austin Wulliman; a movement that introduces the germ elements that make up the material in the rest of the cycle. Each subsequent movement latches onto and/or isolates one or more of the ideas from the first movement - sustained shifting harmonies, noise elements, interruptions, and juxtaposition of pitched and non-pitched elements - all of which culminate in a final movement that layers everything that came before in a cacophony of sound that still maintains clarity of all voices. After going through each individual movement wherein Greenwald explores the basic elements to what seems like their logical conclusion, they are heard all together in a gradually shifting mosaic of timbres and colors. Suddenly the instruments’ true roles become clear as they take on new characteristics within a new context - a sum of the preceding parts, the thing made whole.
I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Greenwald’s music, though I have found it difficult to write about in a meaningful way to provide insight beyond a superficial treatment. It is music that needs to be heard and experienced. No amount of flowery metaphors or theoretical jargon can do these works justice the way experiencing them in real time can. It’s music that is intense with robust complexity while maintaining layers upon layers of nuance, and at times fragile sensitivity. Though I may be short on words for what I can only describe as a brilliant album all around, I can tell you that I’ll certainly be revisiting it regularly.
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