Ms. Sirota had six composers pen music for her. Next she spent a year and a half in Iceland with producers Valgeir Sigurðsson and Paul Evans, hyper-crafting six pieces. The result is a synthesis of classical and ambient, dubbed Baroque. Released on New Amsterdam and Bedroom Community, Baroque revels in Sirota’s viola mastery, but also in feedback and noise. This second album from Nadia has the tranquillity and patience of a Tuttle art object, but the expressionism of a Twombly piece. Where on earth do those two styles meet? At the Rothko Chapel?
Opening the album is the wholly personal “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourself.” Ironically this song was difficult to penetrate in comparison to the following tracks. The lonely viola, despite its several layers, never reaches the touching counterpoint that will later occur with a cocktail of instruments. That isn’t to say that the primary track isn’t gorgeous; it simply stuck out. It leads from the front, but all by itself and hoping to be joined by a friend.
“From the Invisible to visible,” the shortest composition on Baroque, introduces the oft bassy key tones that bring stunning contrast against the omnipresent viola . Played by Westminster abbey’s assistant organist, James McVinnie, the punching sub-bass of the organ brings this and several other tracks to another level. The latter half of this track shows the production spin that takes the music out of the range of simply classical. Obviously, church organ and Viola are antique-toned instruments, classical; but a slight wah leaves the organ with a wet coat of paint. Juxtaposing prog over-the-top keys with the rich viola more than earns the title of baroque. Oh, and be sure to note that the composer of “Visible” is Shara Worden, the female vocalist on Sufjan’s twenty-five minute electro odyssey, Impossible Soul. Neat, huh?
An ode to a remote archipelago, “Tristan Da Cunha,” begins with minimal yet nuanced ringing. Again, this is a stellar example of how disparate ideas, like minimalism and expressionism, coexist on Baroque. The soon-to-join bass drones are completely structural; they breathe. They become a setting, much like Eno’s Ambient 1/Music for Airports. A few minutes in, an awful screech joins with an oscillating viola line; the song builds up then down then up. In the gorgeous seventh minute of “Tristan,” instruments become almost indistinguishable from each other; the viola putting its nose above the deluge of noise, feverishly reminding the listener and maybe even the performer that these are or were, just simple instruments when they began the track. All of a sudden we are all alone, bumping knees with Hubble apparatus, which by no coincidence is where we began on “In Teaching.”
The record is not content with mere compositional intelligence, but excels also in seeming non-intentionality that would make J. Greenwood’s raw-but-unnoticed-by-the-Oscars scores feel queasy. In fact, the album indulges in classical plunder-phonics. “Sleep Variations,” the ultimate track, is sewed together from over ten viola parts that composer Daníel Bjarnason has blueprinted into a paragraph, a straight line, a night of infinitely new dreams. The glaring lack of repetition is ashamedly and naturally forgettable, begging another listen, another attempt to unsuccessfully hum along. Yet on “Etude 3,” Nadia’s Viola work never reaches the level of complexity and brevity that seemed to be right around the corner from the next Coplanesque Southwest flourish. I love to see redefinition of a classic idea, but this etude is not quite practice fodder. Perhaps this is an example of over-editing in this highly affected album? (please don’t cite the simple etudes by Brouwer. Allow me to contradict.)
Baroque crushes dichotomy into a ball and calls it homogenous. At no point does the album seem to be a mix though; the components maintain their identity. Similarly, the methodology of re-imagining other artists work maintains all the parties’ authenticity. Each of the six authors marks a distinct zone in which Nadia must act in. Ms. Sirota’s struggle to reject or conform to these zones is hypnotic.