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Jürg Frey’s unique compositional approach places him at the cutting edge of contemporary classical music while simultaneously maintaining a touch of impressionistic/romantic aesthetics in its roots. Since the late 90's, Frey started to work with 'lists' as a basis of his compositions, sometimes words, sometimes chords, from which he developed and organized the musical materials. In recent years, Frey's focus on 'lists' has extended more toward the connections of items with each other, forming melodies.
Frey composed '60 Pieces of Sound' in 2009, for an indefinite number of musicians; with two instruments that play the pitches as written in the score forming a two-part melody, and an open instrumentation part for any instrument(s) or sound maker(s) as 'the third voice.' Each of the 60 chords played by the ensemble is followed by a similar duration of silence. In November 2017, Frey and the Boston-based ensemble Ordinary Affects (Laura Cetilia, Morgan Evans-Weiler, J.P.A. Falzone, Luke Martin) performed '60 Pieces of Sound' as a part of their concert series in New England, and made a recording of this piece at Wesleyan University.
In this recording, Frey's clarinet and Cetilia's cello played the pitches in the two-part melody while the rest played the open instrumentation part with undetermined sounds. The resulting music was a unique series of harmonies created by open instrumental sounds with a faintly recognizable melody hidden in the core of the ensemble's evenly tempered sounds. The impressions of the chords move along at the edge of consonance and dissonance with the afterglows of each chord in the subsequent silence, hovering somewhere between meditative calmness and disquieting shadow, while bringing an organic warmth and a feeling of breathable open air into a minimal musical structure.
'L’âme est sans retenue II' was composed by Frey in 1997-2000, edited by him from the field recordings that Frey made in Berlin in 1997 with the addition of his bass clarinet sounds. It is the second piece of the series with the same title, after ‘L’âme est sans retenue I’ (ErstClass 002-5, 2017) and before ‘L’âme est sans retenue III’ (b-boim, 2008). Frey composed this series based on his list of ‘words’. The title of this composition series L’âme est sans retenue (“The soul is unrestrained”) is a quotation of a sentence from French poet and writer Edmond Jabès’s book ‘Désir d’un commencement, Angoisse d’une seule fin’ (Desire for a Beginning, Dread of One Single End).
In this 40-minute piece 'L’âme est sans retenue II', the similar duration of the sounds and silences alternate with each other like in '60 Pieces of Sound’. For this piece, Frey first edited the field recording parts and later added his bass clarinet sound with a certain pitch to every part as an underlying tone that would blend with the field recordings. Frey's bass clarinet is discreet and almost unrecognizable here, often hidden under the complex layers of the field recordings, and yet clarifying the harmonization of the field recordings from inside. These two pieces were not actually directly connected to each other, but presenting these two pieces '60 Pieces of Sound' and 'L’âme est sans retenue II' back to back on this album brings out the fundamental aesthetic of Frey's compositions in regards to how he approaches the ‘harmonization’ and ‘openness’ of the music.