Black Bile Extempore

Natasha Barrett, Stefan Östersjö / John Dowland

CD (EM 1012)

  • Label: Elektron Records
  • EM 1012
  • 2009
  • UCC 7320470058275
  • Total duration: 63:11
  • 70 g

On the web


About Black Bile Extempore

John Dowland’s song Can she excuse my wrongs? was published in 1597 in The First Booke of Songs. The text is thought to be by Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, a court favourite of Queen Elizabeth. The song is in the form of a galliard that we find as both consort setting and as three galliards for lute solo. The divisions in these lute pieces are quite diverse and taken together they may give an idea of Dowland’s art of extemporization.

In 2003 Natasha Barrett began work on a live electronics composition for guitarist Stefan Östersjö. This composition, Where shadows do for bodies stand takes as its starting point Dowland’s Can she excuse my wrongs?. The atmosphere embodied in Dowland’s original are re-interpreted rather than re-arranged. The electroacoustic technique provides a means of escape from modernism, connecting antique music to a new aesthetic of sound-surrealism and dually serves to expand the guitar’s quiet and intimate sonority.

A few years later Barrett began exploring electronic improvisation. Finding composition and improvisation somewhat at odds in terms of musical structure she was interested in capturing the immediacy of improvisation without losing the structural intensity of the compositional process. With this in mind Barrett built sizeable Max/MSP programmes for real-time sampling and transformation of the performance that allowed layers of parameters to be controlled and recycled at, and from, any point in time. Taking the idea of dragging the antique into the modern even further, Östersjö and Barrett launched a new project in 2007. Rather than reinterpretation and expansion, this collaboration explored deconstruction in electronic improvisation as well as in a new composed work titled Deconstructing Dowland.

“Deconstruction means dismantling in order to create something new; it means transgression, a shifting of meaning. This transgression, which is also a disruption, takes place from the inside out. This means that deconstruction operates from within a structure, from within the vocabulary of the structure that it deconstructs. Deconstruction as a strategy of transformation is an openness towards the other and a destabilization of dominant powers. It is not a predetermined set of rules that can continually be repeated and consistently applied. The strategies of deconstruction cannot simply be repeated, that is, be separated from the contexts that they address.” (Marcel Cobussen, 2009)

In the composed work Deconstructing Dowland, the galliards are more than deconstructed – they are decomposed. The new work sprung forth ‘post deconstruction’ from the trace or shadows of the original in light of our contemporary climate. The dominant powers of meter, harmony, tonality and rhythm immediate to the ear in Can She Excuse are obliterated. What is left is that which takes over: ornament becomes subject, articulation creates landmarks that in turn lead to rhythm, interruption of harmony creates phrase, simple counterpoint streams into multiplicity, live electronics hydrate brittle traces into a new and opulent musical world. In contrast, the improvisations can be seen as multiple readings of the musical substance that dissolve the binary between object and field. As a complete set the Black Bile Galliards scintillate between 1597 and 2009.


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In the press

Stefan Östersjö och Nastasha Barrett: Black Bile Extempore

Martin Nystrom, Dagens Nyheter, September 2, 2009

John Dowlands sång “Can she excuse my wrongs” från 1597 är föremål för den mest otyglade dekonstruktion på detta album signerat den norska elektronmusiktonsättaren Natasha Barrett och den svenske gitarristen Stefan Östersjö. Här blir allt som inte tillhör själva strukturen utan som utgör musikens själva “air” – drillarna, arpeggiona och de rytmiskla accenterna – ny musik i de mest hisnande förvandlingar. Nattligt koltrastkvitter, sprakande eldar och flyende skuggor.

En dialog med Dowlands över 400-åriga musik som frigör och sätter i rörelse. Kanske räcker inte idéerna för ett helt album, men höjdpunkterna är flera och hettan omisskänlig. Hör den spöklika känslan av hemsökelse i “Where shadows do for bodies stand”, den sönderscratchade “My woe wants comfort”, tumultet i “Unquiet thoughts” eller det skimrande postklassiska soundet i “Earth with her flowers”.