Santa Cruz, CA
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Monuments Emerge chronicles the work of prolific Asian-American composer Nicholas Vasallo, spanning a period from 2007 to 2012. Fusing Western classical music, Asian classical music, and heavy metal (he is a member of Antagony and Oblivion), Vasallo’s work plumbs the inner depths where these traditions come together, finding their roots in order to draw them out into expansive sonic landscapes.
Album opener “Antares Rising” blends a traditional Western wind ensemble with a Japanese taiko drum group; the collision of the two creating a texture greater than the sum of its parts. “Evanescent Revolutions” evokes Conlon Nancarrow’s oeuvre of player piano works, working in sections to explore the breadth of the keyboard via repetition and expansion. Things get a bit more metal on “Explosions in the Sky,” a piece scored for horn, piano, violin, viola, cello, and percussion. For all its thoughtful harmonic development, no self-respecting metal fan would have a problem banging his or her head to this one.
That aesthetic finds a further development in “Collapsing Obsidian Sun,” where Vasallo explores the timbral contrasts between the traditional Korean haegum and the Western violin. If the violin is like a clean guitar, the haegum is an overdriven one, with the cello providing drive in the lower register.
Throughout Monuments Emerge, Vasallo is pulling threads together, even as he seeks to push at the boundaries that have traditionally separated musical traditions. With transcendence the goal, the results are often intensely austere. Vasallo is an explorer of sound, melting and repurposing his materials, always in search of new horizons.
"In his artistic process he attempts to infuse elements of metal in chamber music. And it works. Monuments Emerge is full of highlights, strokes of genius even, that blend the density of heavy metal with the harmonics of gamelan, the polyrhythms of taiko, and atonality." [FULL ARTICLE]
THE CLASSICAL REVIEW
"The hybrid pieces that result from such musical miscegenation articulate a brutalist asceticism that is very much Vasallo’s own, one rooted in the here and now, wholly engaging with modernity while cognizant of the past and the ‘other’. Caught between past and present, East and West, it is music of urgent, often raw-edged immediacy eager to communicate, to connect, and to comment ... [T]he Bay Area-born composer offers a concentrated précis of music composed between 2007 and 2012 and presents Vasallo as a composer for whom compromise is clearly not an option. Instead, this is music to be taken at face value, the obvious contrariness between elements that fuse fragility and force with poetic persistence bordering occasionally on the confrontational ... Vasallo is clearly a composer on a mission and one possessed of a distinctive (albeit not always immediately digestible) voice." [FULL ARTICLE]
NO CLEAN SINGING “Vasallo likes violence, speed, and a sense of dread. … Even when he engages in softer dynamics, there is definitely still a sense of absolute dread that creates tension despite the music’s reserved nature. The moments when he brings in a heavy crash of violence, however, are pretty profound and shriek at the listener like souls of the undead crying as they mourn in the river Styx.”
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE “Nick Vasallo’s new program of works still has the raw force of [his] last release … [M]oves steadily forward in a hypnotic way. The choir and the metal band … mingle in a very cinematic way.”