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Fred Frith: Eleventh Hour

The line separating music that intoxicates listeners with its mysterious stillness from music that bores listeners to tears with its complete lack of musical incident is perilously thin, and composer Fred Frith spends some time on both sides of that border on Eleventh Hour, a new compilation of his works.

“Tense Serenity,” written for string trio and trombone and played by members of the Arditti Quartet and Uwe Dierksen, lives up to its name. The work’s oscillations, plucks and sustained directionless chords make a fascinating tapestry knitted together by the trombone’s scraps of melody and forlorn timbre. On the other side of the line, the pauses between strums and rumblings in “Stick Figures,” a piece written for two players using six guitars, last so long they invite a mind to wander elsewhere. Frith and the Arditti also essay two pieces for string quartet and electric guitar; the seemingly random interplay of textures makes “Allegory” obscure at best, but “Fell” aptly embodies its title as the strings play anguished, slowly shifting and descending chords, with the guitar tolling like a bell and shooting exclamations over the texture.

Frith can write plain old engaging music too, as proved in “Lelekovice,” played by the Arditti; its well-sprung rhythms, lively polyphonic interplay and inviting, open textures make it clear why it’s been used as a dance score. The rest of the music on Eleventh Hour, for better or worse, is only suitable for sitting and puzzling at.

Originally Published