Photos: Rui Camilo


Lose Remember Rediscover

by Markus Böggemann

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A soft and fast c’ in strident, repeated staccato. Two brief deviations up and down. A softening of the sound via the pedal and then a pause. – What may appear as an unintended haiku is a description of the fourth part, Line II, from Lines and Spaces (2015) for piano by Naomi Pinnock. Its almost conceptual sparseness is its defining element: all six parts of the cycle take inspiration from Agnes Martin's minimalist painting style, her compositions consisting primarily of lines and spaces. Their transformation into music focusses on the visual, in direct imitation of the painted form or, in the case of movements Space I-III, on a genuinely musical design of sound and sound spaces: groups of three tones are pulled apart into chords of light, in weightless metre; quiet and repeatedly interrupted by extensive pauses. This music does not provide the ear with a sense of organised development, and yet it is far from a static entity. 

The music communicates with its listeners and invites them in to gain awareness of the smallest of details. Naomi Pinnock often paints images of loss and retrospection in her works. In Beneath (2021) for solo trombone, for example, she combines traces of that which evidences loss yet still preserves the shadow of its previous state. In Beneath, a very high flute melody taken from Pinnock’s Music for Europe (2016) is evoked by the trombone and thus recovered from the pile of the forgotten. 

Here, the instrument is a form of messenger, a chant from the underworld, a voice from beyond the grave: “The trombone voice is beneath the surface and receded, repeatedly moving, gently pushing up and gradually expanding. Moving between worlds.”

But even the original, the ensemble piece Music for Europe (2016), is saturated with a sense of the sad. Apart from the central third movement, the five parts of the work have emotional titles such as transparent lament or porous with loss. To an extent, this is a response to one of Paul Klee’s paintings and its title, reflecting the painting’s subject matter: “High and radiant stands the moon. I have blown out my lamp, and a thousand thoughts rise from the bottom of my heart. My eyes overflow with tears”. 

But of course, it is the sounds within Naomi Pinnock’s music – their reductive and fragile nature – which give it its special beauty and, as in other works, evoke a very personal and emotional tone. This is maybe most audible when she utilises the human voice, as in vestige (2020), a six-minute soprano solo, or in I am, I am for soprano and string quartet (2019), based on a text fragment by Rachael Boast. The reduction of musical material to its essentials is evident in both pieces, as is the resulting focus on the slightest vocal inflections. In both cases, there is an emphasis on experiencing and carrying the weight of loss, as per the fragment of Rachael Boast's 2011 poem “Tentsmuir”, on which I am, I am is based: 
I am, I am
is all that remains -
However, Naomi Pinnock’s music seems to simultaneously preserve something permanent, something that remains immoveable by loss – that thing that her sounds remember and engrain through their delicate perseverance.