La Folia review Ken Ueno: Talus

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La Folia
Grant Chu Covell
October 1, 2010

I listen to a lot of contemporary music and like to think I have it all figured out. And along comes Talus which greets us with a blood-curdling scream more appropriate to Hitchcock's Psycho. Then follow Ueno's overtone vocalizations akin to Tuvan throat singing. I admit it, I smiled. Three trips through this disc have dulled the surprises. Beyond the shock value and clever rhetorical gestures, the mild results don't equal the multifaceted intents. Possibly I come to this music with my own baggage—I've thought seriously about Asian identities and composing (here and here). Perhaps Ueno reveals too much in the notes and the music falls short, despite BMOP's commitment and intensity.

Named for a bone in the foot, Talus concerns itself with violist Richman's broken ankle. Scored for viola and strings, the work derives structure and spectrum from the opening scream and an X-ray of Richman’s fracture. Perhaps exposure to Lachenmann and Moe has dulled the novelty of heavy bow pressure. Such grinding effects require a purpose. Richman does deliver. On a Sufficient Condition borrows its title from a scientific paper by another Ken Ueno and embeds a tape of the young composer counting and signing. The amplified growls and overtones intrigue, but what do the childhood sounds mean? A memorial to Toru Takemitsu, Kaze-no-Oka refers to Fumihiko Maki's buildings which incorporate ancient burial grounds. Ostensibly a double concerto for shakuhachi and biwa, the work has a clear two-part form: The orchestra yields to the soloists and never returns.

– Grant Chu Covell