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Tim Hodgkinson - Sketch of Now

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Artist: Tim Hodgkinson

Album: Sketch of Now

Label: Mode

Review date: Sep. 4, 2006

    “All music divides a continuum into, for example, discrete notes or contrasting sounds, but in this piece I used the idea for dismemberment …”

The above description, written by Tim Hodgkinson concerning the opening piece on this new Mode collection, highlights, as well as any verbiage can, the dialectic underlying every composition on Sketch of Now. As soon as a boundary is established, delineated at length or in the most cursory fashion, a disruptor affects enigmatic but palpable change.

What separates Hodgkinson from the myriad others that work in similar modes of musical construction is a unique attention to recurrence, both of sound and of silence. His palette is that of the contemporary classicist, but his cyclic deployment of sound and its apparent antithesis – his explorations of the genesis, motion and fruition of each sound in context – reveal many layers on repeated listening that render any notion of classicism irrelevant.

The opening moments of “Further into Hard Stone” (2004) demonstrate the simultaneous expansion and dismemberment of an ensemble sound. Each element is clearly audible as it rises from the collective ensemble iteration, the recurrent swells providing much of the differentiation. The multiple overtones hearken back to what Hodgkinson states to be the original concept of the work, involving ring modulation; the clarinet stands out above all else, different shades of vibrato momentarily disconnect the timbre from environment and preconception.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Aici Schiteaza pe Acum” (2004, for ensemble and tape) is built on larger and more violent contrast. Hodgkinson describes the work’s origin:

    “Here as a 'Sketch of Now' is how the Romanian translates. Always I try to return to the blank emptiness when I start a piece. That there should be nothing, except what comes. In this case the commission was for an ensemble piece that had to use tape. I tried to push that out of my mind. Nothing happened. I walked. I sat. Nothing came. In the afternoon I became aware of an enormous sound: a violent thunderstorm had started up. Taking this as a sign, if not from god, at least from the complex unpredictability of being, I rushed out to record it.”

The act of sitting, of willful anti-reflection, in contrast with the big bang of inspiration, is subjected to continuous return in this timbral fireworks display, as geysers of activity burst forth, exuberant but controlled, only to vanish abruptly into the uneasy rustling with which the piece opens. A particularly harrowing moment involves what sounds like piano strings being stroked at great speed, any sense of attack smoothed out. At first transparent, the sound swells until it's pierced by a percussive intrusion; the moment of disillusion is brought about, however, by the airy staccato of a flute, the gesture seeming almost humorous in its destructive power.

I have concentrated on moments of this music, leaving many, many others untouched. Special mention must, however, be given to the players of Rumanian composer/philosopher Iancu Dumitrescu’s Hyperion Ensemble, without whose complete absorption of the tradition of exploration this music would surely suffer in translation. All of the playing is masterful, and this is certainly now among Hodgkinson’s best recorded offerings.

By Marc Medwin

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