An engrossing box of delights from an American polymath

Nachmanovitch: Music from Before the Beginning

The Strad Issue: January 2024

Description: An engrossing box of delights from an American polymath

Musicians: Stephen Nachmanovitch (violin, viola, violectra, voice, electronics)

Works: Nachmanovitch: Music from Before the Beginning

Catalogue number: BLUE CLIFF RECORDS

Psychologist, philosopher, academic, writer, even computer pioneer, mind-boggling US polymath Stephen Nachmanovitch is also a performer across several stringed instruments, both acoustic and electric, and a long-standing blurrer of boundaries between composed music and improvisation. It’s probably no surprise, then, that his most recent release takes a weighty subject as its underlying theme: the earliest forms of life, and processes of organic evolution.

If that sounds forbiddingly esoteric, don’t be put off: Music from Before the Beginning is full of wit and light, of music to charm and entertain, as well as to provoke deeper considerations. Just take the absurdist multi-layered chanting of ‘Nay Yama Dodo Tulu’, for example – surely not meant to be taken entirely seriously! Elsewhere, though, there’s far more lyricism and insight, in the complex multitracked scrubbings of the brooding opening track ‘Hydrothermal Vent’, for instance, or the strangely moving dialogue between Nachmanovich’s electronic violectra plus recorded mockingbirds and crow in ‘To Be in the World’. His ‘Waters of Innocence’ plays ear-tweaking games with unconventional tunings in the context of an Indian raga, while the closing ‘Clouds Unfold’ – the disc’s most dissonant track, but also probably its most expressive, if not downright trippiest – demonstrates Nachmanovitch’s skill with free-flowing melody.

Nachmanovitch is never less than an intriguing, eloquent presence, blending roles as creator, improviser and performer. A collection of sometimes oddball delights, captured in close, detailed sound.

David Kettle