together on the way
Our live recording of the premiere of Eva-Maria Houben's together on the way, a trio with Eva-Maria playing organ, was released in Feb 2022
This gorgeously austere work is a collaborative effort [...] as with most of [Houben's] work, the score functions like an opening salvo in a partnership between her and the interpreters. [...]
The 67-minute piece moves at a seductive crawl, with Houben’s barely perceptible tones occasionally thickening and thinning as the piece unfolds. The sparse piano notes and struck and bowed percussion seem to emanate from the drone, emerging in piquant little phrases alone and together that pack a much greater punch than one might expect. Each percussive tattoo and piano fragment conveys a surprisingly emotional impact; a concentrated yet spacious flicker of sound that becomes framed by space and the almost comforting purr of the organ.
Peter Margasak, "The Best Contemporary Classical Music on Bandcamp",
Over its long duration, around 67 minutes, the music passes through many layers of texture and colour as the trio of organ, piano, and percussion navigates a space where the resonance and timbres of the notes, their relationships with each other, the landscapes they evoke, move almost imperceptibly around and within one another.
It leaves the music, and us, in a state of unrelenting flux, as if we have visited a reality removed from the one that we thought was ours and entered another with the sort of wonder and fascination that leaves us thinking that maybe this is the truer place to move and to be.
All of this is achieved through the incredible rapport built up between the composer and her two co-performers, the GBSR Duo, who know exactly when and how to project each of their own voices into the fore and how to both respect and utilise the degrees of freedom with which the score equips them. It is this shifting balance - shifting so slowly and yet so constantly as to almost imply a permanent imbalance - between each of them that ultimately gives the piece its overall feeling of wholeness, even amongst its diversities of sound spaces and sound worlds.
It is an extraodinary experience to sit through this remarkable piece leaving, as it does, the impression that you have eavesdropped into a cosmos, both external and internal at once, every bit as fascinating and expansive, and beyond, as the images that NASA is just now discovering through its new James Webb telescope.
Ian Parsons, PBS Radio Australia The Sound Barrier, Jul 2022
What a strange piece! […] a collaboration with the GBSR Duo that’s built on the premise of suspense, in which the processes of time are suspended even as you are aware of time’s passing. […]
Houben maintains a steady drone throughout, too soft but too rigid for the listener to believe that it can stay the same. Barton and Rhys add brief, isolated interventions that provoke but never disrupt the stasis, leaving the listener perpetually waiting for a change that may never come. It’s unexpectedly dramatic, even ominous, if you allow it to be. You wonder, between the three of them, when they will allow the impasse to break, either change or drop away, or whether they can keep up the suspension of the faintest of sounds indefinitely.
Ben Harper, Boring Like A Drill
[...] the piece was a sublime example of music-making as an act of journeying, without a specific destination in mind. Echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s sentiment that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, and on the strength of this 80-minute sonic journey, it was impossible to disagree. [...]
This meta-ambient flexing was made more fascinating by the occasional realisation that Houben’s drones had shifted position; in practice, they were constantly on the move (in the same way that glaciers move), in the process setting up seemingly accidental episodes of diatonic lyricism and gorgeous sequences of far greater harmonic complexity, the latter of which, often containing soft shimmering or juddering pitches, created the illusion of prolonging the reverberation from Barton’s gongs and tam-tams.
Our perception of time was entirely distorted: sped up during the 80 minutes of music, which went by surprisingly quickly, but then twisted the other way, slowed to a crawl, during the short silence following the end of the piece, which felt like it went on forever.
Even though the piece didn’t so much arrive as “stop travelling”, i could have happily kept going in its company for a whole lot longer.
Simon Cummings, 5:4
review of the hcmf// première performance on the recording
Over its lengthy runtime [together on the way] keeps you locked inside its taut-yet-bleak grip.
The piece is presented here as a single sixty-seven-minute track - so this and the taut yet eventful flow of the track means this is very much a work that has to be heard in a single setting.
As with many of Another Timbre's releases, this was captured by the label's owner Simon Reynell – who spent much of his life as a BBC sound recordist – so there is wonderful depth and clarity to the recording.
The piece has a fairly circular quality to it, so technically you could play it on a loop. Yes, there is a structure to the whole thing, at points, we do get subtle moments of development occurring. But largely it has a very floating and stark quality, with the only real constant being a wavering sustained organ note. Around this, the three-piece places grim flirts of piano, be it doomy hits, or high darts; brooding-to-slicing percussion detail; or sudden organ note moves. The tension throughout really is tangible, and this is certainly not a piece you could drift off in – due of course to the constant simmering tautness, and sparse darting, at points jarring flow of elements. [...]
together on the way is very much a work for a quiet room, and a mind ready for a long dwell in taut and angular glumness. Certainly, a great example of sonic reserve, and controlled playing – and I’d imagine when this was performed live, there would have been a very tangible air of both apprehension and tense unease.
Roger Batty, Musique Machine
By far one of the quietly intense concert experiences I’ve ever been too, the Queen Elizabeth Hall was awash in stillness […]
One part quite demanding, I also found it rather zen, a well needed mediation after a non-stop few days. Nature comes to mind and outer space, the organ here only ever a drone to the interplay of piano and percussion. […]
Amazing how the organ could sound like train whistles or an an earthquake when the stops are teased. Wales’ own Siwan Rhys played oh so softly on the piano, with some Henry Cowell like string strums and stimulating chords. George Barton was another fine addition on percussion, an attractive array of gongs, temples bowls amongst other delights. Eva-Maria Houben had some deeply impressive concentration levels to keep the organ on the straight path in its never ending backing ambience.
James Ellis, Get the Chance
On stage, Houben was flanked by the two members of the GBSR Duo, Siwan Rhys's piano gently prepared with horsehair, but more often played in a series of unadorned notes, melody reduced to its simplest means--one note, two notes, a few notes that almost, but don't quite, build up a scale or an octave transposition--or gently struck dissonances, reverberating in the sustain pedal and a finger-dampened string; George Barton's huge array of percussion played as a series of barely-audible taps, synchronised and overlapping piano and percussion entries over a single organ chord, sustained over the course of the entire work, not so much as a "drone" as a near-transparent texture, wheezing, breathing, enormous yet transparent, what Houben calls a "shelter" or a kind of sounding silence in which the players can each occupy their separate spaces, spread out on the stage
At one point the breathing of someone in the row above me was louder than the music coming from the stage, but there was almost no "actual" silence: a veil, a representation, a mediation. Somewhere in all of this a meditation on decay, on the anxieties of environment as not simply a "natural" space but a contested terrain of despoliation and the imminent ending of life--Houben's programme notes nodding to the anthropocene--or the histories closer to home, the current conflicts and conjunctures that seep into a place that doesn't, as the cliche goes, close itself off from them in a cocoon, but lets them enter and disappear. This is a historical music, a music maybe at the end of something, with the melancholy that implies, but also with the possibility of remaking and rethinking ("when the chord is unfolded, it sounds for a while, then the process of deconstruction begins"...)--spread out, as the performers were on stage, over large distance, chasms, yet with a kind of intimacy, a human scale, the possibilities of bodies in space, the possibilities of hearing as a mode of relation: a music that models eternity or infinity, as per Cage's ASLSP, its centuries-long sounding organ, yet which is in itself concerned with the material of decay, with a focused materialism. After an hour or so--just under or just over--the work ends, signalled with uncharacteristic drama or force by an inexorable, regular set of drum taps, one after the other, over and over: I didn't count exactly, but perhaps as many as fifteen times, a regular, barely reverberating stroke, flatly thudding, inexorably placed. A host of associations invoked: Beethoven's fate, Wagner's forge, yet the taps here also remove drama, ostentation, military forthrightness: and while those connotations can never render this a gesture "purely" formal or abstract, the context of the work as a whole, the manner of its delivery, lend this conclusion a non-forced materiality, at once transparent clarity and a refusal to be reductively read, rendered symbol.
David Grundy, Streams of Expression