New York, NY (Top40 Charts)Jonathan Beard's Ritual - a five-piece electroacoustic suite for chamber ensemble and electronics - has been released by 4Tay Records (4Tay Records CD 4050). In commentary for the album, Beard (https://www.jonathanbeard.com/) says:
"The Ritualsuite is, firstly, a contemplation of agnostic devotional repetition. There is a seeking within this music. Historically, principles of repetition have been anchors of both sacred and secular devotional practice in countless societies, and that history profoundly resonates with me. Every piece in the Ritual suite is built around contemplative repetition in some form."
"A second contemplation that I care deeply about - also having to do loosely with historical time - presents itself in Ritual: instrumentation choices. In my electroacoustic work, I often find myself lingering on concepts of "historical anchoring" as I create my sounds and timbres: what makes a sound signify being "modern", or "dated", or (better yet) "classic"? Modes and procedures of electronic sound generation come in and out of fashion all the time, but there are certain instruments and processes that eventually become "timeless tools" just like a Violin or a French Horn might be. (Never particularly in-fashion, never particularly out-of-fashion, just being the useful sonic tools that they are.)
As such, I generally choose to use electronic instruments that are more "timeless" in this way - less tied and identifiable specifically to their historical eras of creation, but rather as colors and timbres to be freely used in their own right. Electronically synthesized textures are then juxtaposed against (even) older instruments such as cello or renaissance recorders. Far from relegating each of these colors to their own sonic categories, I seek to re-use, re-purpose, and re-discover what new combinations might be possible."
"As the electronic and acoustic mediums of the Ritualsuite mix together, I hope to explore a sound-world that is in essence outside of time: disparate instruments taken out of their historically used contexts and transported into an othering soundscape, intended to allow myself, and others, a space to re-examine and center within these multiple layers of contemplation."
Of the five pieces that make up the album, Beard describes their arc as follows:
"'Quest' opens with a sonic tableau of ambiguous stillness combined with apprehension of explorative tensions to come. The piece falls roughly into four sections of equal length but increasing timbral depth, each journeying organically into the next. 'Ritual' seeks to ground in a quiet stillness, anchored by a Moog chordal motif, accompanying the solo cello and recorder voices. While still soft and controlled, 'Midwinter' introduces a more unsettled atmosphere, evoking a distant and isolated environment of unclear origins. 'Thanatosis' increases in apprehension, sonically addressing the emotional complexities and aftermath of an anxiety-triggering event. Finally, the suite erupts into 'Battalion', an aggressive, relentless, violent dance, before fading away into the wind."
Other interdisciplinary artists also collaborated with Beard to create interpretive short films based on each piece, all of which were conceived and executed during the pandemic in creative ways. "I'm so grateful to these other talented artists who took my music and made something new with it, particularly during these challenging times" Beard says. The short films are available for viewing both from Beard's website and YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evAaEThz7Pg&list=PLCtkBMPk4-9MoYmO3p2G9qDzfr0dcPfHu.
Instrumental forces for Ritual include six players covering cello, bass and alto recorders, pitched and unpitched percussion, piano and organ, and boutique electronics.
Colin Clarke wrote about it for Fanfare magazine, "It takes guts and skill to bring this off. Composer Jonathan Beard's stated intent is to create a "contemplation of agnostic devotional repetition" via a suite of six pieces that explore the principle of repetition. In doing so, he deliberately brings in the elements of "contemplation" and "timelessness." Cue, one might have thought, another "New Age" disc - but no. By freeing instruments of their historical connotations and melding them with an electronic soundscape, Beard has created what might be termed an effect of "floating distance." His intent is to place the music "outside of time" and, to a large extent, he succeeds, and we should remember that some of the equation is the state we, the listeners, are in when we listen. It could certainly be argued that we all need to center at this particular time in history, and Ritual aims to achieve just that."
Reviewer Huntley Dent wrote, "I found myself drawn into the fields specific to each movement, feeling no resistance or alienation. Whether the composer would consider it a compliment or not, Ritual can be appreciated the way you'd appreciate Ockeghem, Schütz, and Bach—not for their idioms, which are wildly different from Beard's, but for the music's ability to touch a universal sense of yearning to go beyond everyday life. This yearning says something very essential, even elemental, about why we love music, and Ritual succeeds in tapping into it."
And Robert Schulslaper wrote, "…this is an impressive electoacoustic work, sure to appeal to a wide variety of listeners."
Jonathan Beard creates music for media and the concert stage. Recent diverse projects include his electroacoustic opera Cesare, Child of Night, the film scores to What Still Remains, Heavenquest, and Frank vs. God; and De tu puño y letra, an electronic video-sound collaboration with iconic artist Suzanne Lacy. He has served on the composing teams for video games such as Star Wars Battlefront I and II, and guest-composed for ABC's Once Upon A Time. For the stage, Jonathan co-composed the oratorio The Passion of Anne Frank for the Los Angeles Master Chorale as part of their Voices Within residency, and his original theatre-score for Driving Miss Daisy received an NAACP Theatre Award nomination. He currently teaches electronic composition at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. His website is at https://www.jonathanbeard.com/.