Members of Ensemble dal Niente standing outside a building with columns
Credit: Aleks Karjaka

Ensemble dal Niente’s Object/Animal follows closely on the heels of the local contemporary classical group’s November release, Confined. Speak., a retrospective of pieces performed sans live audiences in 2020 and 2021. Object/Animal is likewise chronologically narrow: dal Niente premiered all the works on the album in 2017. Aesthetically, however, the three featured compositions are as far-flung as you could imagine. LJ White’s “We Don’t Eat Dead Things” compiles its postmodern-ish, Dada-ish text from snippets of songs by indie musician Christopher the Conquered. Sopranos Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and Carrie Henneman Shaw sing those word at the top of their range with the precariousness of a high-wire act, which much of the instrumental writing echoes with its breakable brittleness. The fragility of the music is emphasized by the sound of harpist Ben Melsky smashing a beer can against his instrument—a repeated percussive motif throughout the work, one of the most gripping in White’s catalog to date. Jeff Parker’s “Water on Glass” is just as brief as “We Don’t Eat Dead Things” but manages to pull off a slow burn in eight short minutes: Shuddering, sputtering synth textures retain their chewy grit even as they fan out into intoxicating chords as sumptuous as anything Maurice Ravel ever wrote—imagine his Daphnis et Chloë sung by the hollowed-out shell of an abandoned city, its rusted I beams groaning and its streetlamps humming. “Water on Glass” evaporates quickly, paving the way for Swan, the half-hour tour de force occupying the second half of Object/Animal. Written by Turkish-born, NYC-based composer and producer Murat Çolak, who also mastered the album, Swan begins not with an evocation of the bird but rather with the blood-curdling snarls of a lion struggling against iron chains. From there, the three-part composition roves through heaping synth-and-wind chords, bobs to trancelike EDM, and kneels in a dreamlike mosque saturated with crackling vinyl and the metallic aureoles of struck gongs. White and Parker’s compositions are more immediately striking in their model-boat marriage of brevity and detail, but Çolak’s contribution blossoms upon repeat listenings. Like Parker’s “Water on Glass,” though, Swan disappears as suddenly as it touches down—and the silence is wrenching. Trust, then, that its foliage will flower long in your imagination.

Ensemble dal Niente’s Object/Animal drops 3/25 and is available through Bandcamp.