By Derek Stone
The name of the piece is “Apparent Magnitude,” which references how we measure the brightness of celestial objects from the Earth. If the opening of “Apparent Magnitude” could be quantified, it would register as the faintest of glows. It begins with murmurous undulations - rumblings that issue from indistinct locations, and the tentative susurrations of some percussionist (there are five listed). At some point, burbling electronics rise from the softly-churning mass, only to become submerged again. After ten minutes, when some brass instruments emit a short series of clipped, discordant tones, it comes as a minor shock - Rodrigues is so good at guiding the Orchestra through the murky and muted topography of this sound-world that it feels as if they will never break through the canopy. Those bursts are only short detours, however. The piece quickly returns to where it seems most comfortable: hushed textures, creaking strings, and Maria Radich’s possessed voice sounding like the whispered prognostications of an ancient oracle. Despite the seeming “eventlessness” of “Apparent Magnitude,” it’s to the Orchestra’s credit that things breeze right along - because of the large number of players, and because of the lack of any set structures to capture the attention, your ear latches on to whatever it can: a stray bellow here, a short snatch of subdued strumming there, and the occasional sigh of a saxophone. If you approach this recording as a document of the distinct, unrepeatable sounds that occurred at a church in Lisbon in the fall of 2015, you will be rewarded. It strikes me as a set of field recordings that extraterrestrial beings might make and be perplexed by for centuries: listening intently, but never quite able to work out just what is going on. In the final minute, when the Orchestra releases all of the pent-up energy that has been bubbling beneath the muted surface, you can finally see the blinding Quasar of the title - but far from casting any light, it leaves you even more puzzled: What just happened? And why do I want to hear it again?