Jeremiah Cymerman brings the clarinet into a new light. Chilling and beautiful in his control over the pace and the melody, this New York-based musician’s sound also repositions what can be classified as a solo instrument. With a 20th century French meets modern day Nordic atmosphere, Citadels & Sanctuaries focuses on the idea of noise and the line at which it becomes music.
When one thinks of solo instruments, guitars, pianos, basses, drums, violins and even flutes might immediately come to mind. But Cymerman puts the clarinet center stage in his sound experiment. Eerie, out-of-tune, squealing—weird. These words describe tracks like the second in the set, “Spheres of Humanity,” not in a critical way but in an empowering way. They break through the mold of the soothing reed instrument typically in Classical concertos. More like avant-gardist Francis Poulenc, these strange takes on melody and harmony expand the concepts. There is irregular and static ridden beeping as if a computer is overloading and about to explode on “The Absolute and Its Tearing.” There is a downcast tune interrupted by noises that sound like distorted speakers on “Broken Language.” Each track is marvelous in its lack of conformity, yet they are all similar in this regard. A harmony through difference and dissonance.
As Citadels & Sanctuaries continues, each piece seems more improvised than carefully composed. It’s a clever magician’s trick—though Cymerman does note that some songs formed more organically during recording. This kind of verse libre allows the sounds to come first, allows for a freedom that highlights the capabilities of not only the musician but the instrument itself. Though my favorite tracks are the ones where the clarinet is clearer (because it hits the ear better), the experimentation with more psychedelic reverb offers a new soundscape to sink into.
Cymerman is a clarinetist unafraid of the outside world. Like John Cage and his use of unorthodox noises, tracks like “With the Old Breed” boil over with mechanical and distortion sound effects. There is no “proper” music here. There is a rawness that flows surprisingly well and takes the listener by surprise, sometimes inviting, sometimes repelling. But what Jeremiah Cymerman sets out to do is to create his own definition of music—one that is rebellious and noisy but also hypnotic. Citadels & Sanctuaries is an experiment that puts the clarinet at the forefront of busting the boundaries of sound (of acceptable sound) and succeeds in portraying a unique voice undeterred by convention.
Born in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Konstantin Nicholas Rega currently attends East Anglia's famous MA in Creative Writing with the Ink, Sweat and Tears Scholarship. He is a professional musician, the former host/producer of Jazz Jams on CSRfm 97.4, and twice a Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets finalist. He is the Fiction Editor for Crack the Spine and a contributor to The Black Lion Journal. He also blogs.