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Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Sarah-Jane Summers - Echo Stane (Another Timbre, 2023)


By Eyal Hareuveni

Sarah-Jane Summers is a Scottish violinist-violist-Hardanger fiddler who is based in Oslo, Norway, married to Finnish guitarist Juhani Silvola, and both Summers and Silvola's music stretch from traditional Scottish and Nordic folk to more experimental work.

Echo Stane (a Scottish term for a black, hard stone, full of holes, common in meadows and bogs… Their cavities make them of a sound-returning nature) feature Summers’ nine free improvised solos for the Hardanger fiddle, the fiddle with four more sympathetic strings, associated with Norwegian folk music. Summers released an experimental solo album before, VIRR (Eight, Nerve Audio, 2017), where she improvised on violin and viola.

Summers says that she wanted to experiment with the Hardanger fiddle because “not all emotions can be expressed equally well” within traditional folk music. She entered the studio with absolutely no plan but to play the Hardanger fiddle. She fully explored the resonating timbres of the Hardanger fiddle and suggests distinct and highly expressive, sound-oriented and untimely textures.

Some of these improvised pieces like the opening piece, “Airtan”, and later “Shadow Half”, the title piece, “The King’s Weather” and the last one “Eftergang” (all titles are Scottish colorful terms for nature phenomena) already have compositional narratives, rely on instant, mysterious melodies and clearly reference traditional folk music. But Summers balances these pieces with more adventurous ones like “The Feeding Storm”, “Upson”, “Mirrie Dancers” or “Mirk Monanday” which are more abstract but with strong, immediate emotional impact. These pieces are introspective sonic meditations that employ a specific pitch-based approach and are free-associative and often offer intriguing cinematic visions or bring to mind the syntax of electronic music, with its internal development and decay of sound. Listening to these suggestive, beautiful pieces without knowing much about Summers’ work or what instrument she is playing may lead you to the conclusion that you are listening to an experimental, contemporary chamber ensemble.