There are two lenses to hear The Recombinant Trilogy through, though the conclusion for both is the same. Conceptually, these compositions are a rich, exploratory world combining acoustic sound and technology in new and interesting ways. Musically the pieces scale mountains and demolish universes into stardust as they scatter across the sonic landscape. Through a minimalist approach, George Lewis creates immersive works that build and release tension through surprising and unconventional pathways. On The Recombinant Trilogy, those original methods are on blaring display with these pieces put through the digital ringer with the Max patches created by Damon Holzborn.
Each piece in this triptych is written for a specific instrument and musician. Opener “Emergent” gives flutist Claire Chase a playground to showcase her innate skill. Whatever gauntlet Lewis throws down, Chase takes control and either pirouettes through the notes like birds chirping in deep conversation or pockmarks a sound wall with guttural, percussive tones. Throughout, the electronic matrix – wielded on “Emergenet” by Levy Lorenzo – accentuates exclamations here and stretches howls there with twisted delays and other effects. Overall it adds to the conversational element of the piece which is a common thread throughout The Recombinant Trilogy.
Similar ideas show up on “Not Alone” – written for cellist Seth Woods and dedicated to Abdul Wadud – but the timbre of the cello adds a shrill horror quality when combined with Holzborn’s patch. It’s music that demands attention; that refuses to wilt into the background. It’s jarring in the best way. There’s a passage about midway through “Not Alone” where it sounds like the electronics are chewing up the cello notes and spitting them back with unabashed ferocity. It’s as if an internal dialogue has turned into an argument over rejection and is moving toward physical altercation. Right until the very end, the intensity is ratcheted up and ratcheted up until I have to hit pause and take a moment. Stunning.
Closer “Seismologic” sees bassoonist Dana Jessen coax an impossible number of textures, tones, and densities from her instrument. It’s unreal. (Her album, Winter Chapel, from last year is well worth seeking out!). Huge bass swells overpower in parts while industrial breathing sounds feel like disparate urban landscapes. Electronic manipulations and processing drop the listener into an insect swarm at one point, using every inch of space to capture the feeling of being surrounded. Her hyperspeed runs are magic. Hypnotizing to the point of chaos, it’s incredible to hear her use so many techniques in such a cohesive way. When she cranks up the trill, high-pitched wailing, I am transported to basement harsh noise shows that are as inviting as they are repulsive. “Seismologic” is a trip.
The Recombinant Trilogy is a massive piece of work. George Lewis’ compositions shine throughout while the artists find freedom and space. I suppose this could be considered difficult music, but with time and close inspection it is enthralling and deeply engaging. Lewis continues to delight and surprise while ignoring any and all boundaries.