CD, ThisCo, 2004
This debut CD release by young Portugese composer Samuel Jerónimo consists of three pieces themed around ideas of change, with quotes from the I Ching used in illustration of this idea. The first, “Redra”, comes in at over half an hour, while the other two each are less than half this length. Their major common element is the use of sequenced piano parts — frequently several sequenced piano parts, spread across the stereo spectrum. At first the artificiality of the sound annoyed me — why use electronics to produce a poor simulacrum of such an expressive instrument? But the idea began to grow on me with a few listens as I began to imagine I could see what the composer was trying to do. Locked tightly in step, the multiple parts seem to divorce themselves from their origins as reproductions of a natural instrument and take on a new life as an embodiment of some perfectionist mechanical ideal, like interlocking gears in a virtual music box. The near-complete lack of dynamic variation in each voice occasionally gives the pianos a hint of harpsichord or clavichord, and this combined with the use of pedal point lends the music an occasional baroque gloss, although it is predominantly highly modernist.
The music box analogy is particularly strong on “Redra”, which starts with a single, well-spaced chime like one of those Zen alarm clocks, gradually building the complexity and tempo with the addition of other bell-like and xylophonic sounds in tightly ordered patterns until the listener is emeshed in a complex and constantly-moving structure. Structure is perhaps the dominant idea throughout; the music here is surprisingly highly ordered given the supposed theme of change. Around seven minutes in the xylophones and chimes are abruptly replaced with the signature electronic pianos, although these retain the same machine-like regularity, following phrase after phrase of intricate, relentless and self-referential patterns as if someone has used an old-fashioned mechanical loom’s weaving instructions as piano roll. The music changes tempo and key fairly regularly, and instrumentation too as the pianos and chimes play off each other; these changes are more like gear-shifts than evolutions, appropriately enough given the overall flavour of the piece, but perhaps surprising given the organic interpretation of change favoured by the liner notes.
“Andra” starts off superficially more organic, with a sea of bubbly ambience from some analogue-style synth voices, but underneath the reverb and the resonant filters I suspect they are playing patterns much like those of the first piece. Sure enough, the piano-machines soon make a reappearance, this time with a slightly more chromatic feel, after an interlude filled with simple, slowly-phasing oscillators. As abruptly as they started, the pianos finish again a few minutes from the end, and the track ends with waves of white noise lapping upon a digital beach. “Endre de Fase” is more concerned with harmony than before, with one of the pianos pounding out chords that seem almost to merge into a hypnotic drone, with the melodic programmes of the other parts filling in the gaps. This is the only piece that uses no other sounds; it is also perhaps the most melodramatic.
The overall effect is a bit like Steve Reich, sharing a respect for structure and regularity to the point of obsession, and conjuring up ideas of chamber music for an ensemble of robots. The music is always lively, and often urgent, but never seems unnecessarily hurried; it didn’t grab me by the throat straight away but grew on me over the course of a few listens. The rigorous use of regularity and repetition means it can’t be the most challenging form of composition in the world of new music, but I don’t think this is what Jeronimo is going for. I would hate to write it off as ‘easy listening’ but it’s certainly pleasant music for a pleasant day.
— Andrew Clegg