Patrick Higgins Returns With Tocsin

Patrick Higgins’ 2016 album Bachanalia —a sonically adventurous compilation of Bach compositions transcribed for guitar—provided smooth and familiar musical sailing compared to this recently released double LP of challenging, provocative Avant garde chamber music.

Higgins uses his string arrangement of Bach’s unfinished “Contrapunctus XIV” as a launch pad for three original compositions: the four movement “SQ3”, “Tocsin” (for which the album is named) and “Emptyset [o,o] (opus.12)”.

The album begins with the unfinished Bach piece, which of course abruptly ends, leaving a long silence, described in the annotation as a “…jolting pocket of silence…” and “an intercession of mortality…” from which Higgins’ compositions take their cue, not so much in response, but rather as motivation to explore “…death, the task of ritual and the crisis of representation in our contemporary world.”

In other words, don’t expect “light fare”, but do expect a provocative and rewarding encounter both musically and sonically.

At least the opening Bach counterpoint provides a bed of comfort before the silence and then the fireworks, which begin with a tentative, repeated musical “awakening” followed by what sounds like a door opening. Once “inside” there’s more silence and then the string dissonance begins. It’s not easily absorbed, but the drama makes sense after a few plays, though what Higgins has the string players do resembles the squeak heard while your dentist probes your teeth during a cleaning.

The first of the two LPs includes the opening Bach piece followed by the four movement SQ3: “Aletheia”, “Encomium”, “Passagio” and “Fugue (Burial)” performed by the Mivos Quartet. Described in the annotation as a “dark and dramatic evocation of ancient rite and modern mourning”, you will not be tapping your toes, but neither will you be consumed by boredom. Though written between December 2012 and Spring 2015, it’s an apt and provocative soundtrack to the Covid 19 epidemic. Higgins recorded the Bach and SQ3 to analog tape.

The two movement percussive title piece arranged for twin cellos and prepared piano percolates as much as it develops forward momentum. While the annotation describes it as a “highly demanding and idiosyncratic work”, I found it cinematic and easy to absorb, though like the rest of an album about death (and re-birth, but less so) it’s dark. Let go compositional norms and you’re sure to enjoy the first movement’s inventive textures and erupting punch.

The intensely percussive “Emptyset [o,o] (opus.12)” performed by The Wet Ink Ensemble, though the album closer, might be an effective way to approach this record if the opening post-Bach section pushes you away. The instrumentation featuring strings, woodwinds, flute and percussion dazzles, thanks to both the playing and the recording. Higgins composes, engineers, produces, mixes and masters with audiophile sensibilities.That's impressive!

Recorded at Higgins’ church-based Future Past Studios (check out the client list) and Oktaven Audio, the sound throughout is sensational in every way. If your system is capable, “Emptyset [o,o] (opus.12)”’s low end will pleasingly shake your room, while the track’s naturally sharp transient attack will excite. The voluminous spatial picture helps produce a sonic spectacular.

Higgins mastered the resulting files and Bob Weston (Shellac’s bassist) cut lacquers at Chicago Mastering. QRP pressed on 150 gram vinyl.

Add among the most ingenious, attractive and appropriate to the music packaging you’ll encounter, including a transparent printed outer slipcase wraparound jacket and an embossed inner one that mirrors the printed outer jacket lettering and you have a truly special production well worthy of your attention, though clearly not for everyone!

Here's a short excerpt: Emptyset

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jazz's picture

that you added the excerpt!

Jenn's picture