Michael Byron

Awakening at the Inn of the Birds


Tides of Alluring Surprise

There is a dark allure to Michael Byron’s music, a seductive otherness that leads, through fascination, to a gently disturbing ambiguity of emotion.

Awakening at the Inn of Birds is a recording of mostly recent pieces, with a focus on chamber music forces: string quartet plus contrabass; piano in solo and duo; some subtle synthesizer textures from Kathleen Supove. There is something of a conversational tone to much of the music here; a conversation that often seems constructed upon whispered questions and their vague and evocative answers.

“Continents of City and Love” is a fine opening example of Byron’s experiments. A dark, almost-but-not-quite repetitive undertow of low strings pulls the listener into a gentle trance; two flurrying and shimmering pianos converse over the cantus-not-quite-firmus. Background and foreground, surface and depth keep shifting within the listener’s perception. At nearly fifteen minutes, the piece, like most of the others here, creates its own small but engaging world.

“Tidal”, from 1981 and by far the earliest piece on the disc, uses rumbling, lapping, interlocking pianos and strings to create a sense of ebb and flow; the space and distance between sonic events is in constant flux; speed and tempo change in subtle and organic ways, creating a sensation of lift and drift, a wave-like comb and roll. Ghostly melody lines form in the harmonic haze.

A thorny, terse energy pervades the piano-driven “Evaporated Pleasure”; relentless repetition and a strange and unpredictable use of silence propel this minimalist essay on rhythmic coding and percussive keyboard attack (Sarah Cahill and Joseph Kubera resume pianist duties here)

The title composition, featuring members of the FLUX quartet, is a chattering and caffeinated-sounding piece for strings, alive with a hocketing exuberance that makes this reviewer think of how Ba-Benzele Pygmy song might have sounded had it been worked into a Bartok string quartet.

The disc comes to a quiet and ambivalent ending with a short piece for solo piano that explores gently the place where melody. harmony and structure might first come together; the piece ends without resolve, resulting in a question…

Michael Byron’s music, despite the composer’s careful attention to surface sonority and the spatial placement of sound and information, makes little sense as background music. And the length of the pieces suggests a need for surrender and immersion that very well might repay the listener’s attention with small epiphanies and a heightened sense of surprise.

--Kevin Macneil Brown, 2003, Dusted Reviews