One of my personal highlights of this year’s Huddersfield Festival was the performance of Justė Janulytė‘s 2020 work for 8 trumpets, Unanime. Composed for Marco Blaauw’s Monochrome Project, the piece exists in two versions: the first, with a single climax, lasts 15 minutes; the second, with two climaxes (one muted, one open) lasts 26 minutes. Janulytė’s output is typified by states of timbral-behavioural homogeneity – for this reason she describes her work as “monochrome” – in which the music continually teeters at a liminal point between stasis and flux. As such, a word like Unanime (unanimous) could well be applied to her work as a whole.
There are only two moments in Unanime that exhibit true clarity, the first of which is right at the start, as the trumpets put together a chord downwards, one note at a time. Yet as soon as the last note is added, that liminal quality manifests immediately. The chord bobs and hovers, undulating in the air, one moment diminished, the next major, or minor, or a 7th, or a flattened 9th, or something in between each of these and counltess other possibilities. This is harmony turned liquid, the inner arrangement of notes always flowing, all traces of certainty disappearing the same instant their existence is mooted.
The main change that takes place, and it’s subtle, is a slow alteration in the extent of the mutes, modifying their timbre slightly, sounding more shrill or nasal, tightening the texture so that it sounds more taut. At the same time, certain individual tones appear to protrude ever so slightly from the main textural body – though, as with everything else in the piece, the possibility that these could simply be imaginary is entirely plausible. Though ostensibly relaxing, the fact is that in Janulytė’s music neither the ear nor the brain is ever able to rest, slipping around over a surface that never quite comes into focus, remaining just beyond our power to resolve.
The other fact – which, considering how much of a constant conundrum the piece is, is quite remarkable – is that Unanime is stunningly beautiful. Both in terms of its internal process as well as its mesmeric external effect, this is music that could continue ad infinitum. As such, it makes sense that Janulytė (at trumpeter Marco Blaauw’s suggestion) subsequently made a second, longer version of the piece. Yet equally, almost any duration, even a shorter one, would work just as well, i think. Unlike process music (which Unanime definitely isn’t) or ambient music (which Unanime could be) it needs almost no time at all to start conjuring up its complex, illusory soundworld.
At its conclusion, the piece doesn’t exactly resolve but does finally arrive at its second moment of clarity, focusing the pitches into a perfect fifth. Perhaps it’s an effect caused by the previous 15 minutes’ aural conditioning, but i can’t hear it as a resolution. Its stability feels non-existent, poised to waver or slide or flow into something new even as it comes to an end. Even when the sound stops, the puzzle remains.
The world première of Unanime took place at the 2020 Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, performed by the Monochrome Project.
In this piece the trumpet octet is treated as a single body, like the organ of different pipes sharing the same breath, the same soul.