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Hero Brother


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Performer Notes
  • Violinist and composer Sarah Neufeld's solo debut stands in stark contrast to her membership in Arcade Fire and the instrumental group Bell Orchestre. These 11 pieces (mostly for solo violin) range from just under two minutes to just over six. They showcase her instrumental dexterity, the universality of her taste, and influences that range from Steve Reich's early minimalism to Henry Flynt's raga violin aesthetics to Appalachian fiddle music. In recording the album, Neufeld and producer Nils Frahm made use of various spaces, not only for their ambience and acoustics, but for textural elements that become immediately apparent as it plays. They include the orchestral recording hall at Studio P4 in Berlin, a parking garage, an abandoned geodesic dome, and Studio Durton. Echo, wind, field sounds, and open space all adorn Neufeld's violin, placing its multiplicity of timbres at the center of a larger sonic universe. The various settings become passive collaborators inseparable from Neufeld's compositions -- much as LaMonte Young made use of various environments in his early compositions. The title track moves across classical, vanguard, and rural instrumental styles; it's augmented by her massively amplified foot stomping on the floor. It's a frenetic piece that offers drama and urgency despite its relative warmth. The nearly languid "You Are the Field" explores various sonorities inside a series of repetitive scalar melodies. "Breathing Black Ground," which also features Frahm's droning harmonium, gradually develops from a sparse, haunting frame of a lyric melody aided by wind wafting through its center, and becomes a sinister, tense evocation of dreadful beauty before opening onto something mournful and tender. "Right Thought," which uses a Celtic reel as its basis, is more "fiddle" than violin, but Neufeld imbues its rawer, shifting timbres with warmth and delicacy. Frahm adds a treated piano to "Forcelessness," offering chords changes to Neufeld's exploration of three interweaving themes. As a composer, she imbues each of these works with unfettered emotion; there is no distance between her playing, her wordless vocals, the natural reverb of the recording space, and even the wind on the elegiac closer, "Below." Hero Brother is a carefully conceived yet relaxed presentation of a fairly startling series of works that reveal the versatility and considerable creative depth of a composer/soloist who has been hiding in plain sight all along. ~ Thom Jurek
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