Pennsylvania-born, Brooklyn-resident Scott Wollschleger is one of the more interesting of the post-Feldman generation. A composer who takes his cues from what he perceives as the current American dystopia, his distinctive language is as much about the spaces between the notes as it is about the music we hear, yet he has a refreshingly recognisable ‘sound’ that revels in intriguing sonic combinations and repetitive rhythms, without ever straying into anything as obvious as minimalism (or any ‘ism’ for that matter).
His latest album, performed by the radical New York City-spawned piano and bass trio Bearthoven (Karl Larson, piano; Pat Swoboda, double bass; and Matt Evans, percussion), sandwiches the substantial 35-minute American Dream between a pair of miniatures, the haunting Gas Station Canon Song for solo piano and the hypnotic We See Things That Are Not There for piano and percussion.
Played here by Larson (though dedicated to Feldman-specialist Ivan Ilić who premiered the work), the brief Gas Station Canon Song reflects on a moment of remembered beauty as the evening light illuminated an otherwise nondescript gas station bathroom. Wollschleger spins out a mournful, fragmented, repetitive melody that hovers in the air with a wistful, sustained grace, like an image revolving in the weak light of a setting sun, the music lending a glimmering poetry to a drably utilitarian 21st-century space.
We See Things That Are Not There is a classic case of musical misunderstanding. Vibraphone and piano set off together but immediately drift apart, the rest of the seven-minute work being a tangible attempt by the two to return to that increasingly forgotten unison while increasingly unable to remember what the point of it was in the first place. As the work advances, the quest for the music becomes the music itself, drawing the listener inexorably into the frustrating and frustrated heart of the piece. Larson and Evans pace it all perfectly to maximum hypnotic effect.
A simple theme on piano launches American Dream, soon underpinned by an ominous rattle as all three musicians lay on with chromatic pitch pipes. An exploration of beauty and hope versus repugnance and doom (Wollschleger’s words), subtle juxtapositions of instrumentation create an eerie sense of defective electronics, a feeling in music not unlike the lonely potency of a Hopper painting. A passing car, the sputter of the motel light bulb, metallic tones that bend and decay, all go to creating a mesmeric soundscape, at the heart of which are feelings of intense loneliness and isolation. Fleeting moments of musical optimism are inevitably swept under the carpet to be inevitably replaced by a feeling of being trapped in time, doomed to live certain moments over and over again. The work concludes in a bleak, two-minute cacophony as all three players hold multiple buzzing sex toys against the bars of the vibraphone. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when the percussionist went on that particular shopping spree!
Wollschleger’s sound world is diverse and original, his conjured imagery compelling, if frequently enigmatic. Capable of considerable energy, he’s also unafraid of silence, his sense of pacing surefooted and engaging, especially here in Bearthoven’s committed and imaginative performances. This is late night music, best appreciated when the mind is free to wander where Wollschleger leads. It is also music that reveals itself further the more time you put into it. Make the effort though and you’ll be richly rewarded.
Composer: Scott Wollschleger
Composition: American Dream
Catalogue Number: Canteloupe CA21145