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Guillermo Gregorio: Coplanar

The title refers to an obscure movement by mid-20th-century Argentine visual artists, relating to the mathematical concept of “points lying in the same plane.” Like much if not most modernist theory, it’s maddeningly abstruse, especially when transplanted from the visual realm to the aural. Its practical relevance to the act of listening requires-as the composer suggests-a leap of faith.

Gregorio’s style draws upon the “old masters” of 20th-century modernism: Schoenberg, Webern, Cowell and Cage, to name a few. Webern seems to exert an especially powerful pull; his spare, serialist textures and use of klangfarbenmelodie are notable aspects of Gregorio’s work. His Chicago-based Madi Ensemble includes strong improvisers, yet the music is almost entirely composed. Despite a restrained incorporation of synthesizer and a rather loose performance style, the music is frankly a bit academic. Still, Gregorio’s feel for timbre is spot-on, and as a conductor he knows how to get the most out of his players. The further removed we get from modernism’s heyday, the more contrived stuff like this sounds. That’s not to say it isn’t good. Indeed, I rather like it. I’m just not sure it has much of a shelf life.

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