*300 copies limited release* With Empyrean Traces, De La Catessen Records focuses on another aspect of Adelaide composer David Kotlowy’s career – his works for trio. It follows the 2021 release of Final Fragments: Piano Music of David Kotlowy, where Kotlowy’s solo piano compositions were performed by composer and scholar Stephen Whittington. The three compositions on Empyrean Traces are brought to life by the Benaud Trio, whose ability to carry the gentle poetics of such work allows for bravura performances: as Luke Altmann of De La Catessen says, “it often felt during these sessions less like we were listening to the Benaud Trio and more like we were scanning for a signal from outer space.”
Indeed, Kotlowy’s compositions share something otherworldly. His compositional ethos is informed by several key influences – Japanese musical aesthetics; John Cage; Morton Feldman; Ross Bolleter and his ruined pianos – but while you can hear relationships between Kotlowy’s compositions and these forebears, Kotlowy is not beholden to that which has come before, and over several decades, has marked out his own patch of aesthetic territory with unerring clarity. The works on Empyrean Traces span the 1990s to 2020s, with two ‘earlier’ pieces, “Chromatic Traces” and “Under Stars”, revised earlier this decade.
While significant time has elapsed between their composition, the three pieces on Empyrean Traces share the same ‘sound world’, one where an exterior seeming-fragility masks a resolute interior: these are sturdy, powerful pieces. Kotlowy draws from several compositional tactics – the use of Cagean time brackets, or breathing as measure, such that this album, in his own words, “traces a transition from outer to inner clock time.” There is also a “relaxing of musical austerity” as Empyrean Traces progresses; the spare chill of “Chromatic Traces” acquiesces to the relative richness of the title composition.
A gorgeous album of deeply moving music, Empyrean Traces is sure to appeal to fans of composers such as Morton Feldman, Jürg Frey, or Tōru Takemitsu.