Here we have a perfect example of beautiful music being made with a minimum of means. Each of these five pieces uses the same method, namely fairly rapid beats on one instrument, varying the position and volume of the strikes over time. This simple way of playing produces surprisingly multifaceted sound worlds that unfold over time.
"Psalm 1" utilizes one key of a xylophone. At first one hears the fundamental note, which gradually changes timbre over the first minute or so of the piece. Eventually other notes arise, as the different overtones come into play and begin to dance around each other. One tone sounds like feedback, a sustained drone that shifts into a broken pulse and back again. Eventually the whole exercise becomes enveloped in a cloud of wavering harmonics, the aural equivalent of heat waves on a summer day. It is interesting and mesmerizing and dumbfounding, all at the same time. The second and third pieces apply the same method to a drum and then a woodblock, respectively, with similar results.
Of course, this is nothing new, and as if to enlighten us to that fact Hennies includes a recording of Alvin Lucier's "Silver Streetcar For The Orchestra", which applies the task to a symphonic triangle, one of the simplest of orchestral instruments. I wondered about the title until I realized that the sound of the triangle does indeed resemble the bell of a streetcar. While listening to this piece at a low volume one night I was astounded to hear at least two seemingly separate sounds coming from different places in the room, on either side of my head. It took a few moments to realize that these sounds were all emanating from the CD player, and turning my head a little in either direction obliterated the effect. I suppose this experience might have something to do with the fact that these pieces are so well recorded. A live recording of the same pieces, available on the web, only reveals a small part of the experience. To actually hear these pieces played live would be a wondrous thing.
The final short piece, "Untitled (1918-2000)" returns to the xylophone. With it's stop and start structure, I'm not sure exactly what's happening here, nor do I know what the dates in the title refer to. It is however another rich sound world to pay close attention to.
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