What a wrench! Torke’s grasp of rhythm

If you’ve not encountered the joyful, ebullient, and rhythmically versatile music of Michael Torke, you’re in for a treat: herewith the opening few minutes of his chamber piece, Adjustable Wrench.

Perhaps best-known for his orchestral piece Javelin, which mercifuly seems to have avoided being used exhaustively this year during the Olympics, Torke’s light-footed, deft and mesmerising music combines aspects of repetition with a real rhythmic drive, full of twists and turns, that constantly delights. The music is never still – as a listener, you have to pay attention to the intricacies of its endless variety, but it’s effortless in its creativity.

With bright, brash ensemble sounds, his music shines with an irrepresible energy: just listen to the bouncing baritone bass-line in July, for saxophone quartet;

Or the brisk, sure-footed rhythms of Change of Address:

Or the unstoppably vivacious Telephone Book:

There’s the song-cycle Proverbs, or the opera Italian Straw Hat, a concerto for saxophone, and Rapture, the concerto for percussion, amongst a wealth of output.

Torke is sometimes clumped together with the school of Minimalists, alongside composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, or post-Minimalists such as John Adams. Whilst his music embraces aspects of repetition and cellular or rhythmic development (perhaps extension would be a better word), his rhythmic intricacy perhaps owes something to the ‘sprung rhythm’ technique of Tippett. With whomsoever you care to pigeon-hole him, Torke’s music refuses to sit still.  His Four Proverbs, for instance, mixes text and melodic line around, whereby each word has a fixed pitch: as the melodic line is sliced and diced, so too is the text; this has the effect of liberating the chosen proverb from a linear meaning and making instead new associations, as the words are jumbled as freely as the notes of the melody.

There Is Joy

Hold on to your (Italian Straw) hat: the music of Michael Torke.

(Audio extracts via LastFM).


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