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Galya Bisengalieva - EP ONE Music Album Reviews

On her debut EP, the Kazakh/British violinist, likely most familiar from work with Radiohead, creates teeming and imagistic environments with four strings and electronics.

Even if you have never heard her name, you might have heard violinist Galya Bisengalieva. In the past few years, she’s played on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, Thom Yorke’s Suspiria soundtrack, and several of Jonny Greenwood’s scores—Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Justice’s Woman, too. Many of these appearances owe to her leadership role in the London Contemporary Orchestra, the new-music ensemble that also collaborated with the electronic musician Actress on the post-classical LAGEOS earlier this year, for which she co-wrote “Galya Beat.” The Kazakh/British violinist is part of a vital community of contemporary composers and players; now, on her EP ONE, she presents commissions from Claire M. Singer and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, along with a new piece of her own.

All three works, written for violin and electronics, take a timbral approach to minimalism, focusing their attentions not on melody but on long drones, scraped strings, and glistening harmonics. The music director of the 1877 Henry Willis organ at London’s Union Chapel, Singer wrote “Tús” after being inspired by Glen Coe, a valley in the Scottish Highlands with a stunningly primeval aspect. Singer’s 2016 album, Solas, concentrated on a shimmering mixture of organ, cello, and electronics; likewise, “Tús,” whose title translates as “beginnings” in Scottish Gaelic, zeroes in on a narrow field of tone. It opens with nearly two minutes of a long open fifth—the sound of wholeness, of concord—before the notes begin to slide across minor sevenths, major thirds, and major seconds, the different intervals piling up in a shifting matrix of tension and release. As the faintest candle flicker of high notes gradually gives way to a bassy rumble, an entire universe comes into being. There is a palpable sense of immanence in its deeply soothing movements, a sense of divinity flickering all around us.

Bisengalieva’s “TULPAR,” the shortest selection, is just as imagistic. The title refers to a winged horse in Turkic mythology and the state emblem of her native Kazakhstan. Lightning-fast string plucks thrum against great sheets of drone, suggesting galloping horses taking flight across the steppes. As with the LCO’s work for Yorke and Greenwood, Bisengalieva’s bowing saws across the spectrum, harmonics periodically flashing up like a river catching afternoon light. For all its simplicity, it’s a tense, electrifying sound.

“Oparin,” written by French pianist and composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, closes out EP ONE. The title references Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin, whose book The Origin of Life introduced the concept of the “primordial soup”—the fog of carbon-based molecules from which, he theorized, all life arose. You can hear an approximation of that cauldron in Bisengalieva’s looped violin lines. For two, three, four minutes, she saws and plucks, trembling drones and hiccupping pizzicato layered into a hazy miasma. It’s alien and hypnotic, the high notes hissing like steam from volcanic fissures. Finally, a bold glissando bolts through the murk, dives, and rises again. A tentative melody takes shape—searching, dissonant, almost breathtakingly lyrical. If what has come before is the soup, then this, surely, is life itself. Against the restrained backdrop of the rest of the EP, it’s a remarkable development and a keen demonstration of Bisengalieva’s interpretive instincts.


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