Lizzy Welsh - The Target Has Disappeared

I bought this album – the first by my friend, violinist Lizzy Welsh – on its release in the Australian winter of 2023, but I have only managed to listen to it now, in March 2024, to my detriment. I know Lizzy, and I know the work of the composers, and I wanted to commit the mental clarity and space, along with the physical listening space with appropriate equipment to reproduce the fidelity of the album, in order to doing the record justice. I avoided listening to the streaming version to which I have access, wanting to experience the album through good quality speakers, in space, with the time and attention that it deserves – not on a noisy train commute with a mediocre bluetooth connection. The most distraction I had was my dog tip-tapping around hoping to be taken for a walk.

Having worked with Lizzy in the past, I know the utmost care with which she approaches these challenging works, and the long relationships with the composers who wrote them. This very much comes through in the recordings. A real sense of love and care that extends beyond the love and care that dedicated musicians bring to their craft, and to the music of our time, because of the strength of the relationships (both personal and artistic) that have given rise to these three pieces. It is a stunning album, and the quality of recording is remarkable. I absolutely love how clear and detailed the baroque violin is, and how its timbral distinctness (and that of the bow and strings) is clearly audible. Lizzy, the composers, and audio engineers have done a superb job capturing the instrument and the music.

I want this response to the album to be a kind of positioning; a way of orienting my experience of the album, and how it seems to fit within the tapestry of music today. Especially in the Australian context. This is not a review.

It is really wonderful to hear this kind of music put to recording. I realise that a significant amount of contemporary (art) music gets recorded and released by labels like Kairos, NMC and so on. But it’s rare that such a strong and distinct contribution from an Australian violinist, solo, with works by Australian composers who live here, rather than in Europe. From that perspective the album is unique, and I sincerely hope that it has been purchased within Australia and stocked by any adventurous record stores that still exist.

Because the album produces dialogue between the roughly-1600s and the present, it’s fascinating to hear this unfold, particularly as the final piece produces an affect that seems to mimic this hauntological act at the album-level. It was very moving to hear the past brought forward through each composer’s approach to the instrument, at least two of them (if not all three) utilising pitch material outside the modern chromatic equal-tempered tuning.

Note: I’m coming back to writing this on a subsequent listen on basic Apple earphones rather than a good amplifier and speakers, and it is strikingly different. I didn’t expect it would be that big a difference in experience, but it is. On the other hand, even if the aesthetic experience is notably less for the lower quality listening conditions, it does invite a more critical engagement. This is very deep music that really needs to be listened to properly, with either good quality headphones without much, if any, background noise. Or on a decent stereo system.

Chaconne (for 1) by Alexander Garsden

This is a beautiful piece; the tuning produces a strong sense of resonance that reminds me somewhat of La Monte Young, though applied very differently, interjected with occasional Lachenmann-esque gestures. I am blown away by the sensitivity of the performance, too. The dynamic range (which is quite large) is so beautifully performed (and captured). It’s a very small part of the piece, but the fragile ‘degradation’ of sound at the very end is really beautiful; like a moment of extreme vulnerability.

archive by Samuel Smith

Samuel’s piece seems to share the characteristic of sound emerging from nothing with Chaconne, so it sits well as the middle of the disc. When I was listening on speakers I think this was the experience that I liked most of the three, in that space, but it’s also music that is not translating well to earphones, which is annoying. I really feel drawn into this piece; the quiet moments invite attention in that is the momentarily, figuratively (in the sense of using musical figurations) taken along for short bursts of movement. It’s almost like a series of short stories or poems as part of an interconnected whole. Or maybe a set of photographs of a single subject but with wildly varying contexts and implicit framings. It’s a very compelling work. In the subsequent sections it sounds as if those initial photographs (or short stories) are reconfigured into even further contexts; or maybe collaged. It’s a fascinating, moving listening experience.

The Target Has Disappeared by Natasha Anderson

While comparing one composer to another can be challenging and fraught, the aim of this piece is to provide some degree of positioning of the album. I think this piece, more than the other two, positions this aspect of Lizzy’s artistic practice as being loosely informed by the so-called spectralists. Or maybe the post-spectralists. I can hear in this piece, as in the others, influence from composers such as Kaija Saariaho. Weirdly, I can also hear strains of progressive rock, like 1970s King Crimson or something. This piece has a really interesting affect, as it seems to play with memory in a more overt way than the others (which both do so in the way of what would be loosely within the domain of music as a whole). Indeed, on my first listen, there were parts where I was unsure without checking which piece I was listening to. Which is not to say that they sound similar in any way, or share materials, or anything like that, but rather that Natasha’s piece plays with memory in such a way that as it unfolds, it almost activates a kind of mental short-circuit in the short-medium-term memory, where for me at least the other two pieces, or my memory of them, are falsely brought back into the present. It’s a fascinating experience, and one that I’ve not really experienced before in my musical life. And perhaps poetically this affect captures the spirit of the album as a whole – dragging into the present and reimagining certain characteristics of baroque music. Stunning.