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Bryce Dessner and Ensemble Resonanz – Tenebre Review

Psychological string wars

Bryce Dessner, lead guitarist for The Nationals has been working on a fascinating project with Ensemble Resonanz. ‘Tenebre’ is a suite of four compositions that are penned to stir the emotions in the most dramatic and razor-sharp ways.

The composition style of this selection reminds me of The Kronos Quartet, which interestingly the opening track ‘Aheym’ was written for. The ten-minute piece explodes with shrill stabs before working its dissonant strings into a slow-burning frenzy. The sheer scale of the production of Ensemble Resonanz comes to the fore in the final few minutes as the wrought ensemble wring out each chord at speed.

Ensemble Resonanz

It’s this dense hammering of strings and penchant for drilling down further on a point until your mentally exhausted with it that makes ‘Tenebre’ an interesting album. The title track does the same but with note bends as it veers from psychological horror to cinematic sci-fi in tone. The best section is the outro where vocal snippets from Moses Sumney begin to take over from parts of the string arrangements. It is inspired and both creepy and angelic at the same time.

Following that 15-minute track, the 18 minute ‘Skirk’ is abstract and avant-garde. There are sections that recall Yo-Yo Ma’s Naqoyqatsi soundtrack. The cellos are on fire here but in a caustic manner. It meant that by the time I reached the 14-minute closer ‘Lachrimae’ I was glad it wanted to play with slow drones, shivering quivers and not bellow yell its strings at me. The track is soothing initially but then the drones begin to shift into darker territory.

Bryce Dessner clearly wants to make music that is determined to get under your skin. My concern is that it rarely moves from attack mode into respite mode and mentally I grew tired of each track before the end. I feel like compacting the compositions would have really helped me out but I’m not normally one who minds needing to work to enjoy and get something. One thing is for certain though, the Ensemble Resonanz are a collection of mighty talented musicians and they can powerhouse anything thrown at them.

Recommended track: Tenebre

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Bryce Dessner -

6.5

6.5/10

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