Brave, foolhardy even, to try and tackle the emotions and after-effects of 9/11 through chamber music, or indeed any sort of music. I was expecting the worst: a mawkish, banner waving-ego trip, the Oliver Stone movie dressed up in the tasteful guise of contemporary music. Mercifully, I was confounded by an album that, although not ground-breaking, succeeds with its unaffected sincerity. New York-born Kevin Malone appears to have quite a long pedigree of writing for various forces, be it oratorio, orchestral, or chamber music. Now a senior composition lecturer in the UK, he seems to have very broad interests, be it as a film composer, multimedia artist or social commentator, but 9/11 is a recurring influence. This album contains only three of his seven works confronting the subject, and it makes me curious to hear more.
Thrown somewhere between Philip Glass and Bernard Herrmann, 18 Minutes, premiered just two years after 9/11, starts as a relentless, pulsating suite of pain, its title referring to the time between each plane hitting the World Trade Center. Fanatically, obsessively constructed around 18 sections, each containing 18 10-second phrases or vice versa, the work has the feel of a witness examining all the pieces over and over again in the search for reason. Unsettling but very effective, it does work musically, with the scoring for two double basses and string orchestra creating a clear sense of dialogue and texture. Malone relieves the pain with the soothing, melodically intense fourth movement, creating a compelling state of calm and reflection.
Requiem 77 is model of simplicity by comparison. Retaining all the tape hiss and crude edits, Malone splices fragments of the air traffic controllers’ ever more urgent call outs to the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, while a solo cello comments on this sound sculpture. It is not original but it is effective, simple, and well constructed with its sudden jolts into silence.
Angels and Fireflies is a more conventional work, the brightly lit, chromatic flute writing lending a surreal edge to Malone’s terse, washed-out string accompaniment. An atmospheric and often rather beautifully austere tone poem, it was written after visiting the crash site of United 93, and this reflective work proves he is more than a pedantically mathematical sound artist.
This could have been a disastrously glib and tactless bit of grandstanding, but Malone pulls it off with his lack of vanity. These are not some vainglorious, grandiose showy scores, but instead utterly personal, introverted creations. His sincerity is always apparent. Sound is full and well balanced in keeping with the urgency of the writing, and Malone’s notes are illuminating, although it may be best to allow the music to make its own effect before reading about his methods and processes. There is something obsessive and exacting about his highly structured attempts to confront 9/11. It is not an easy listen and not always memorable, but I really admire Malone’s intricate style and invention.