A subtle release for Miya Masaoka’s new label, Solitary B, “For Birds, Planes & Cello” is something of a ‘grower.’ Upon my inital listening session, I could confirm little more than my own piqued interest and the ongoing quality work of Marcos Fernandes, who assisted with the field recording of a San Diego canyon central to this piece.
Throughout the untreated field recording, saturated as it is with the sounds of aircraft and peppered with migratory bird calls, Masaoka calls upon cellist Joan Jeanrenaud to emphasize select frequencies utilizing her extended technique. Curiously, Jeanrenaud is often found mimicking the atmospheric rumblings of jet engines passing overhead, though I would have appreciated a similar instrumental link forged with the birds as well. Whether Masaoka’s choice to identify the cello with the artificial elements of the field recording is a careful and telling commentary, or a simple reflection of the limitations of the instrument, it is difficult to discern.
Nevertheless, choices have been made, and Masaoka wants us to be aware of this… hence Jeanrenaud. Her cello breaks the fourth wall to remind us of the composer’s hand– music is, after all, where we choose to bestow our artistic focus. Within “For Birds, Planes & Cello,” it is the same as picking out shapes in the clouds: “This one looks like a lizard, do you see it as well?”
Impeccable production both in-studio and out feature throughout this disc, though it is the sort best enjoyed at a long and uninterrupted sitting. Listeners expecting some sort of free improv on top of field recordings will do best to avoid; as I’ve explained, that really isn’t the game of this album. Recommended.