Violinist Lora Kmieliauskaitė and cellist Arnas Kmieliauskas are Lithuania’s Twenty Fingers Duo and on their second album, Dualitas, they take listeners through a timewarp into expansive, aging sound cathedrals. Rich details highlight their lithe focus, but the biggest takeaway from this breathtaking performance of pieces from two different Lithuanian composers is the deep understanding the duo have and how that connection imbues this music with an inspiring grandeur.
Dualitas begins with the sidelong performance of Kristupas Bubnelis’s “…please leave your message after the tone…” Joined by Elias Peter Brown on electronics (for both pieces on Dualitas), the piece opens with a sub-bass echo that is felt deep in the gut. As the violin and cello emerge from a cold-fused cocoon, warm lights drop from the ceiling while Brown’s electronics wriggle through glass corridors. The strings are decadent, both Kmieliauskaitė and Kmieliauskas using a featherweight touch that echoes into glowing resonance. It’s beautiful.
Moving through the hanging boughs of ancient forests, the arrangement carries and spreads on the wind. Oscillating drones temper the golden violin slivers, but the tension created is filled with sanguine tones. As crackling electronics drift outward, each broad bow of Kmieliauskas’s cello is a spotlight on the path ahead. It brings all the cascading sonic flotsam into focus and pushes forward into a new frontier.
A different narrative unfolds on the six-part “Dreamcatcher 2120,” written by Rita Mačiliūnaitė. With added narration and a different shade to the electronics, “Dreamcatcher 2120” becomes a strident playground for the violin and cello to explore and pick apart. Spinning patterns take shape on “Dreamcatcher 2120 – Category 1,” the dizzying arrangements hypnotizing listeners to focus on these incendiary sonics. Mačiliūnaitė is best known for her incidental music for theatre and opera and that experience shines as an angelic voice emerges from the desolation. She returns to this well throughout “Dreamcatcher 2120” and each time that operatic serenade appears, I am transfixed.
Continually I find myself inured to Aivaras Dočkus’s narration. I don’t understand a word of it, but the plaintiveness of his delivery is so transportive. It’s as if I’ve ended up in a turn-of-the-century capitol building where the weight of life-and-death decisions hangs thick and fetid in the air, but moments of transcendent brilliance keep piercing the walls like beams of solid light. Dočkus’s voice is the antithesis to the spacious, inquisitive music and the special way the acoustic instruments of Kmieliauskaitė and Kmieliauskas interact with the layers of contemplative electronics. “Category 3” brings intensity while “Category 5” gets into surprising dancefloor grooves. The entirety of “Dreamcatcher 2120” is utterly engaging and mesmerizing.
Truthfully, I know little about Twenty Fingers Duo but landed on this release while doing some research on Lithuanian experimental music. Dualitas is a showcase for an incredible array of talent, from the musicians and performers to the composers and narrators. Each pass through this fantastic album is a gift and with each subsequent listen I feel like I’ve stumbled on a hidden diamond.