Michael Byron

Book of Horizons


Michael Byron's Book of Horizons (2009) is on the CD of the same title. I have actually reviewed him before in the 32:5 issue of Fanfare magazine--his Dreamers of Pearl for solo piano, performed by Joseph Kubera. Byron is another genuinely uncompromising composer, but with a twist.

Each of the five movements of this piece is essentially an extended state with a consistent character; they suggest to me the "ergodic form" advocated by Byron's teacher, the late James Tenney. Basically two-part counterpoint, the parts are nonetheless so involved and complex that the music sounds far more rich than it appears on the page (a nice feature of the CD's liner notes is that score examples are provided for the piece).

At first, the effect is controlled chaos, and I was reminded of Nancarrow's fiendish player piano figurations. But then the second movement is as limpid and modal as the first was aggressive and chromatic. What quickly emerges is that Byron is suggesting that an "algorithmic" approach to composition (driven by powerful underlying axioms and processes) can be applied to any harmonic or stylistic template. The third movement returns to the more Modernistic experimental world, though it's almost like nothing I've ever heard--splatters of clusters and micro-glissandos, in a polytonal context that defies an evident harmonic parsing. The fourth movement is triadic and Romantic in spirit, though its arpeggios make it more like a big wind chime than a song. And the last takes us into a realm of nervous, but gentle, pointillism, a bit aviary, a bit spring shower.

Robert Carl, Fanfare, 2014