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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Kristin Norderval, Paula Shocron, Pablo Díaz - Future Retrospection (NendoDango Records, 2019) ****

By Alexander Dubovoy

“What are we doing is what  / we are doing.” - Barbara Barg

This elision between question and statement is at the heart of “Pop Quiz”, a poem by Barbara Barg that provides the text to one of the central tracks on the album Future Retrospection. Often, to ask questions, we subjugate the act of doing; complex music ends up sounding difficult. Kristin Norderval, Paula Shocrón, and Pablo Díaz, however, provide us a collective act of creation that is firmly grounded in the doing. Though this album merits repeated listening and does not yield its depth easily, it also does not shy away from beauty. The listening experience is simultaneously calm and considered but also explosive and exciting.

Kristin Norderval’s beautiful vocal tone heightens the album’s sense of naturalness. The only track to incorporate text is “Pop Quiz”, where she sings and at times speaks the aforementioned poem. Otherwise, Norderval explores the nonverbal qualities of the human voice. She has a remarkable ability to hang almost effortlessly on pitches and to allow melodies to emerge fully formed yet as though by chance.

The album flows beautifully, but each track feels distinct. I hesitate to call them “songs,” but there is an element of song form at play. Each follows a self-contained idea, often a melody and has a clear, concise structure. Though the sonic world is ever-changing and incorporates extended technique on piano, percussion, and prepared harp, several of the tracks have loosely-held tonal centers and even broadly-defined forms. There’s a sense of concreteness that aids rather than obscuring the album’s more abstract character.

It is interesting to hear Shocrón and Díaz’s tight connection in the context of a third collaborator. Often, musicians who have developed a distinctive sound struggle to incorporate another voice. Here, however, it feels that Shocrón and Díaz often take on the role of accompanist to Norderval, without being relegated to a secondary position, of course. The album holds together so well because they are not bound exclusively to one particular way of playing. The resulting music has strong direction without feeling like any one party seeks to dominate. Consequently, it can embrace moments of silence without losing its sense of purpose.

It is an album that encourages delving in and being washed over by the intricacies of sound. It raises, and, at times literally asks, profound questions without forgetting the sheer joy of making music and embracing beauty.