Magazine article Gramophone

Dowland Refracted: Philip Clark Listens to Four Discs That Reimagine the Despair-Tinged Songs of John Dowland through the Prism of Later Musical Styles

Magazine article Gramophone

Dowland Refracted: Philip Clark Listens to Four Discs That Reimagine the Despair-Tinged Songs of John Dowland through the Prism of Later Musical Styles

Article excerpt

John Dowland was a dreamer of anagogic dreams, a composer who inhabited an ancient world so far removed from our own that he will remain an eternal enigma. And yet Dowland songs like 'Flow my tears' and 'Come again' feel strikingly of the moment, their tonalities--too modal to be truly tonal and too tonal to be convincingly modal--touching on fundamental and enduring truths. Dowland was truly a Renaissance man. In Gramophone's April 2012 issue Harrison Birtwistle told me that Dowland's music felt like something dormant waiting to be reawakened, an authentic vein of English expression that had nothing to do, thankfully, with goal-orientated Romanticism or the harmony likely to emerge from manipulating 12-tone rows. 'There's a lyrical expression in Dowland that isn't like anything else in music,' he said, words that resonated through my mind as I listened to Despairs had governed me too long by the Swedish ensemble Skogen.

Skogen is led by Magnus Granberg, who provides compositional frameworks for his 10 musicians while preferring to sink his own identity within that of his group. With Skogen, Granberg's original idea was, he says, 'to create a space where there's room for many different ways of working and existing as a musician and a human being, and on the other hand to try to integrate these ways of working'. And integration is key. Skogen's debut album, released in 2012, 'Ist gefallen in den Schnee', derived its harmonic and rhythmic fabric from Schubert's Winterreise and Granberg described how, in his role as 'composer', he provided his hybrid ensemble of new-music players, improvisers and electronic musicians with a 'pool' of material--pitches, rhythms, chords, fragments of melodies--and a regulating temporal structure upon which to hang them.

In this new Dowland-related piece the process is more opaque: we're not even told which Dowland song Granberg has plundered. Improvising violinist Angharad Davies sits next to 'classical' violinist Anna Lindal; the pitch-specific contributions of John Eriksson on vibraphone and marimba coexist with the textural explorations of Henrik Olsson (bowls, glasses) and Petter Wastberg (objects, contact microphones). Ko Ishikawa plays the traditional Japanese sho as his compatriot Toshimaru Nakamura performs on a no-input mixing board, a gizmo that wires input through output to generate feedback loops ripe for sonic manoeuvres. Granberg's achievement is immense. Drawing on this 17th-century source, au courant art cuts across allegiances of style while the spectre of John Dowland is never too far from the surface. …

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