Reviewed by Steve Smith for Time Out New York
White Bone Country
Stephen Gosling, piano; David Shively, percussion (New World)
When a musician invokes a desert, the results are often predictable: sunbaked torpor, whispering winds, a wooden flute’s drooping sigh. Andrew Byrne, an Australian composer based in New York, doesn’t literally depict any specific landscape in White Bone Country, the 2006 suite that fills half of his new CD. But with his skitterings, rumblings and surrealistic sensations, Byrne more accurately conjures alien terrain than do any number of Bowles-besotted dune sketchers.
Insistent rhythms and percussive timbres, expertly handled by Stephen Gosling and David Shively, position Byrne within a lineage of experimenters inspired by non-Western styles, including John Cage, Lou Harrison, Peter Garland and John Luther Adams. In four of the work’s nine parts, piano and percussion fuse into a single, twitchy nervous system. Elsewhere, Gosling is kept busy inside and outside of his instrument’s casing; a section for crotales (antique cymbals) is less a solo for Shively than a duo also featuring the resonating bones in your inner ear—no exaggeration.
Of the remaining pieces on Byrne’s disc, Tracks is a sonorous exercise in complex polyrhythms and shifting densities, confidently negotiated by Gosling. And the four-part Fata Morgana, constructed from prepared-piano sounds, could be a dance remix of Cage’s prepared-piano sonatas—dance being the key word, since these jangly, hypnotic pinwheels cry out to be choreographed.