Heinali: Madrigals review – a baroque trip from the middle ages to the space age

John Lewis
·2-min read

If you’ve studied western classical music to any level, you’ll be familiar with the basics of baroque counterpoint and harmony. There are strict rules you have to follow – no parallel fifths or octaves, no unresolved dissonances, never leave out a root or third, and so on – which make baroque-style arrangement akin to completing a sudoku puzzle.

Instead of labouring over these rules, Ukrainian composer Oleg Shpudeiko – AKA Heinali – has delegated them to a computer. He works with software that writes generative patches from modular synths. Flute-like sine waves roll through an ever-mutating but entirely logical sequences of notes, like a robot playing the top line of a Bach prelude. This is quite gently compelling in its own right – like the opening tones of David Bowie’s Andy Warhol – but Heinali’s masterstroke with Madrigals is to draft in three musicians to improvise over these generative sounds on antique instruments.

Sometimes the musicians cleave to the melodic structures of the electronic voicings; sometimes they go against the grain. On Giardino, the burbling synths are accompanied by Maxim Kolomiiets playing elegant bel canto lines on the oboe; on Beatrice they are disrupted by Igor Zavgorodnii’s creaky, discordant violin drones. Andrew Maginley plays an old baroque lute called a theorbo, sometimes providing oud-like flourishes, sometimes playing scribbly effects. It’s a beautifully plotted suite that mixes free improvisation with mathematically generated precision, a journey that lurches so wildly between the medieval and the space-age future that it quite transports you from the here and now.

Also out this month

London-based Irish pianist Mary Dullea has been exploring a fascinating contemporary canon in recent years, and her latest album Persian Autumn (Divine Art Records) sees her performing works by two Iranian composers: nonagenarian Hormoz Farhat’s two piano sonatas, written nearly 60 years apart, mix bombast and whimsy with the odd Lisztian flourish. Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour is the wild card, his compositions quizzical collections of acute angles and irregular shapes that Dullea colours beautifully.

It’s a pity that Darren Cunningham, AKA Actress, has got further from the twisted rave music he was making a decade ago, but he’s proved rather good at painting gauzy, ambient electro-acoustic watercolours. As well as including some minimalist solo piano pieces and angular synth miniatures such as Fret and Gliding Squares, his latest album Karma & Desire (Ninja Tune) features three tremendous reverb-drenched collaborations with Sampha, whose distorted, wordless vocals sound like spectral missives from the afterlife.

Hausmusik is an album by the Selke brothers – Sebastian on cello and Daniel on piano – who trade under the name CEEYS. On tracks such as Fallen they create metronomic, Nyman-ish miniatures that sound as if they’ve been plotted on graph paper; tracks like Reunion see them jabber rhythmically, with Sebastian playing pizzicato; elsewhere they explore texture – creaking strings, bashed wood, triple stopping – over minimal one-chord drones with a horror-movie intensity.