According to Wikipedia, liminality is an anthropological term (from the Latin word limen, meaning a threshold, but you knew that, right?), “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete”. During the liminal stage, participants stand at the threshold between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
In this CD, the title work is itself a transition, surrounded by a prelude and postlude and addresses climate change; many believe we are in a liminal state as regards that, this era being the period between the old, normal world, and the one that’s to come, which will be much less hospitable to mankind thanks to rising sea levels and a vastly changed climate.
It’s not surprising that the music is full of foreboding, though it does have moments of hope. It’s also fairly quiet: the volume needs to be set high to appreciate it, almost as if Cooman has written Liminal to be subliminal, as silence, or at least music that is below the threshold for conscious perception, features in the works, too.
Opener Shoreline Rune is a piece for string orchestra and harp, written for composer Judith Weir on her 60th birthday. The slow pulse of the sea underlies this atmospheric track, which condenses the tide cycle into five minutes. The atmosphere is of a bleak beach on a cloudy day.
Liminal is Cooman’s fourth symphony and while admitting that climate change is the ultimate inspiration, he declines to elaborate, leaving further interpretation to the listener’s imagination.
To us, it seemed the opening piece is the pre-mankind earth, as it has a feel of being a long way down the geological timescale. Brass comes in and the music becomes more harmonious, perhaps representing the agrarian stages of man’s evolution. Then comes a string-led throb of industrialisation and more ominous overtones, and a mounting sense of panic. Then (at least to us) the music heads for the oceans. As far as we can gather, major climate change will occur when the current major ocean currents — driven by temperature and freezing water in the poles — collapse, and around nine minutes in, there’s a definite feel of deep oceans and whales. The music gets more urgent as the pace of change increases before ending on what could be a hopeful note — though it could be hope for the planet, as man departs and the planet is once again left to nature.
The closer Prism is cosmic organ music. It is a separate piece but it also sits well with the title track, as the vast heavens watch while we destroy the planet.
This is thoroughly modern music, and Cooman has created three atmospheric pieces that are both tranquil (mostly) but also thought-provoking.