Sam Cave’s CD, Refracted Resonance, was released on Metier in 2019. In press reviews both sonatas were described as “a mix of beautifully spacious soundscapes”, as “worthy of repeated attention”, and my second sonata in particular was described as “severe or laconic, [which] carries a barren beauty, like a windswept landscape” (full text of the reviews is at the bottom of this post).
Sam performed the CD launch concert at the Hundred Years Gallery in London on 31st May 2019. It’s a great venue for guitarists, intimate, with a resonant acoustic that especially suited my two sonatas.
Sam’s performing score of my first sonata.
The CD got some great reviews from a number of different music publications. Here are three (with positive mentions of my works):
Bradford Werner’s review on This is Classical Guitar:
I was very pleased to listen to Sam Cave’s new album featuring contemporary music for guitar. It’s an exciting new release “exploring the resonance of the guitar and spectrum of harmonic overtones including music by Hoartiu Radulescu, Christopher Fox, Tristan Murail and two sonatas written by George Holloway.” You can read the full album notes in the digital booklet (PDF) which also includes detailed descriptions of the work by Cave and some of the composers.
The album opens with the beautiful and haunting Tellur (1977) by Tristan Murail which sets the sound stage for sonic exploration. In Murail’s own words “Tellur starts off as a kind of wager: how can one produce the long sound continua necessary for my work on procedures, transitions and evolutions, on an instrument that produces brief, plucked sounds?” The album then switches to new music composed for Cave including the two Sonatas by George Holloway. These are works of heavy contrast, both in compositional material but also in texture. The mix of beautifully spacious soundscapes filled with microtuning, harmonics, and fluttering impulses meet sharp accents and direct motives in a highly virtuosic performance. I really enjoyed the extra space in the Second Sonata and silent, yet intense, rhythmic pacing. Chile (1991) by Christopher Fox changes up the texture to explore South American rhythms in a hypnotic kaleidoscope of strumming. Fox has written a large number of chamber music works that include guitar that are well worth exploring. Subconscious Wave by Horaţiu Rădulescu is a real meditation on sound. In the performer’s words, “In this piece, Rădulescu’s only for guitar, the strings are microtonally retuned to match certain overtones from the harmonic spectrum of the note C. The performer then plucks, with varying degrees of resonance, a hugely complex array of natural harmonics against a backdrop of ever shifting digital sound. ” The album ends with Cave’s own composition which an intimate and contemplative piece that nicely ties the album together.
Refracted Resonance by Sam Cave is a daring and beautiful exploration of new soundscapes on the modern guitar. From intimate and spacious mediations to virtuosic contrasts, Cave creates new worlds of sound in focused and thoughtful performances of new music and pinnacle modern works.
Gitarr och Luta (Sweden):
Refracted Resonance – contemporary music for guitar
Often, the guitar is a really cosy instrument, dedicated to creating a charming, romantic atmosphere and the literature is full of nice ear candy that easily goes with the furniture. English guitarist Sam Cave has certainly another focus and has positioned himself as a musician looking for the sonic universes that are to be explored beyond the common repertoire and the traditional ways of playing. This is an approach that places trust in the listeners ability to take the time to curiously enter into unknown worlds, and at the same time demanding a lot from the musician, the instrument and (in this case) the capacity of a recording to capture the width of the sound as natural as possible. ”Music” is sometimes a very narrow expression and maybe ”sound art” would fit this program better, as the individual sounds and their sonic character often are at the center of attention and where the very nature of sound is handled in a way reminding of how it has been explored in the fields of electronic and electro-acoustic music earlier. What is a sound and how can it be created and treated? And where is the line between sound as a concrete acoustic phenomenon and moods, emotional sensations and notions? Is there always a line?
What we hear on this CD might, in lack of better terms, be described as avantgarde, but a another way of putting it might be meditative, or wide-opened listening. Here is the fascination of resonance, the individual sounds or notes and their multi-faceted essence at the center of attention. Some of the six works presented here use microtones, which may at first feel strange and just ”out-of-tune”, but it contributes to widening the capacity of the guitar, turning it into a very rich instrument with so much power of expression. Likewise, overtones play a central role – they are often created through harmonics, but in the piece ”Subconscious Wave” (where the guitar in accompanied by electronic sounds) by Horatiu Radeluscu, the performer is using a bow on a steel-string guitar, thereby creating so many more sounds that I thought was possible to achieve on a guitar. The opening piece ”Tellur” by Tristan Murail uses different methods for plucking the strings in a sort of non-moving space of sound. This gives rise to contrasting movements within a restricted area.
Two sonatas by George Holloway are presented, in the first the music moves between two distinct poles, one created by harmonics, the other by ordinary plucking. The second sonata is a bit more severe or laconic, and carries a barren beauty, like a windswept landscape.
”Chile” by Christopher Fox is clearly program music (it was written in 1991, which makes it’s theme more apparent), and illustrates the contrast between democracy and the repression of the military junta in Chile. The rhythmic way of playing is ”typical Latin American”.
Everything comes to a closure with a short composition by Sam Cave himself, ”Refracted Meditations III”, a thoughtful and beautifully fragile summoning up of the program. Sam Cave plays with excellent concentration and a sense of honesty and respect regarding the material. He urges you to listen with open senses and reveals a rich world of musical being, far from the main roads of mainstream culture. He has dug deeply into his own art of expression, with a sense of humble authority thereby affirming the guitar’s position as an instrument capable of reaching beyond it’s romantic associations and becoming a medium for great, groundbreaking art.
This CD, recorded in a church in London, is great sounding and has the power to naturally deliver the abstract beauty of this music.
Reviews in Fanfare:
Sam Cave is a young English guitarist who studied at London’s Royal College of Music. He is also a composer; one of his original works, albeit a brief one—less than three minutes long—closes this CD. It is part of an as yet incomplete set of “short meditative pieces.” In it, he uses some of the compositional technique and concepts found in the works by other composers on this CD, so it is a nice “summing up,” if you will, of what came before.
Many guitar CDs are predictable. That is not always a bad thing, but Refracted Resonance is not predictable. If you are looking for a restful hour of music in a Spanish or Latin vein, with perhaps some Baroque delicacies thrown in, then you will not find it here. All of the music here is challenging, not just for the performer but for also the listener. That is signaled right from the get-go by the inclusion of a work by Tristan Murail, the French composer familiar for his use of Spectralism, a compositional technique that uses the mathematical analysis or mathematical generation of timbre. (It should be said that just as some composers associated with Minimalism do not like to be called Minimalists, some composers associated with Spectralism do not like to be called Spectralists. I do not know if Murail is among that group.) The features of Tellur include alternate tuning of the guitar, non-traditional ways of attacking the strings, and a flamenco-like rapid strumming of the strings to produce something close to a wall of sound. (My apologies to Phil Spector!) In Tellur, the boundary between what is considered to be music and what is considered to be noise is blurred … but of course all music is noise and all noise can be music, depending on your perspective.
The distinction between music and noise is further explored in the work by Horatiu Radulescu. As Cave writes in his booklet note, in Subconscious Wave “we hear the universe.” This work could be associated with Spectralism as well. The guitar’s strings have been “microtonally retuned to match certain overtones from the harmonic spectrum of the note C,” and the guitarist plays the work (sometimes bowing the strings, instead of plucking them) against a backdrop of taped digital sounds.
George Holloway (not to be confused with senior composer Robin Holloway) wrote and dedicated both of his sonatas to Cave. The first sonata also uses microtonal retuning of the guitar strings, this time, in Cave’s words, “to access certain ‘spectral’ harmonies that imitate the pitches of the harmonic series.” Two different “materials,” the first dominated by guitar harmonics and the second dominated by “normal” fretted notes and chords, “discourse” with each other over the course of eight minutes. The second sonata, simpler in its sound and its materials, was inspired by, and attempts to mirror, the “extraordinary calm and beauty” of a church in the nation of Georgia, which Holloway visited in 2011. The score includes what are described as “guide notes,” whose decay controls the pace at which other material is presented.
Chile, by Christopher Fox, also uses extended playing techniques, albeit with a political motivation. At different points in the 11-minute work, the guitarist mutes the strings, a metaphor for the repressive Pinochet dictatorship. Also, in Fox’s words, “The music’s fluctuation between more or less repetition—between phrases that move forward and phrases that close in on themselves—has a similar expressive purpose.”
I have no way to evaluate Cave’s performances, at least from a technical standpoint, but suffice it to say that his playing convinces me that all of these works are worthy of repeated attention, even though they hardly leap into the ears of the listener. This is not a CD to play while sitting by the fireside with a loved one, sipping on a glass of port. You know if this is for you, buy now.
The documentation that accompanies this release is exemplary, as is the engineering.
Raymond Tuttle (Fanfare)
Guitarist Sam Cave identifies several strands running through this challenging but infinitely rewarding disc, but perhaps even then one can be added: eloquence. Whether that be of the commentating word (a Julian Bream quote in the booklet around the decaying quality of a plucked instrument, or indeed Cave’s own liner notes), to the works themselves, or to Cave’s playing, it seems to be the very heart of this release.
Little introduction is necessary for the name of Tristan Murail (bom 1947, and perhaps most associated with IRCAM). His Tellur is an investigation of rasgueado guitar strumming from flamenco music on one important level, and more specifically how this can be used to create an ongoing, protracted sound. Other aspects subjected to investigation are contrasting ways of producing attack, harmonics, and the harmonic resonance of chords, amongst others. The performance here is terrific: highly atmospheric, electrically virtuosic, and utterly compelling. I have not heard Rafael Andia’s performance, reviewed positively by Scott Wheeler in Fanfare 14:6, but Stefan Ostersjo, on DB Productions in a disc that also features composers like Donatoni and Carter, is equally persuasive.
The Guitar Sonata No. 1 (2009-11) by George Holloway is dedicated to the present performer. Clouds of harmonics (the composer’s own term) are contrasted with fretted chords and figuration. The two modes of discourse are helpfully illustrated by music examples in the booklet. Microtonal tuning is used to access spectral harmonies. The music itself is extremely challenging technically, but for the listener the impression is one of beauty, a testament perhaps to Cave’s performance. Holloway’s Guitar Sonata No. 2 (2011-14) is a rather calmer affair, intended to invoke the quietness of the mountainous area surrounding the Trinity Church of Gergeti, which sits in the shadow of Mount Kazbegi; there is also a poem that accompanies the work. The progression of the decay of “guide notes,” written on an extra, upper stave, determine the movement of one gesture to the next; the impression is almost of an exiting of clock time.
In between the Holloway sonatas is Christopher Fox’s Chile. The composer is known (in my mind at least) for challenging, acerbic music, but this piece seems rather more approachable, centering the attention on the rhythms of Latin American popular music. True, those rhythms are often interrupted, and Fox uses the contrast of the sounding and the muting of strings as a metaphor for the alternation of freedom and oppression in Chile until the end of Pinochet’s reign in 1980. Written as a companion piece for the ensemble work The Science of Freedom (1990), it offers its own challenges to the listener as well as the performer, given that dislocation and discombobulation lie at Chile’s heart. Cave’s rhythmic virtuosity is remarkable here.
A background of restless digital sounds accompanies Horatiu Radulescu’s Subconscious Wave (1984). Microtonal retunings of strings, intended to match overtones from the harmonic spectrum of the note C, inform this work’s highly individual universe. Seminal in the use of spectral techniques, French-Romanian composer Radulescu offers a masterclass in its effectiveness.
Finally, Sam Cave’s own Refracted Meditations III (2018), part of an unfinished series, is less than three minutes long, but in that time provides an effective summation of the performance techniques investigated throughout this disc.
Fascinating, stimulating fare, beautifully performed and recorded.
Colin Clarke (Fanfare)