Norwegian composer Ole-Henrik Moe is just as happy to be referred to by his coincidentally sonically consonant initials -- OHM -- and Rune Grammophon's two-CD set, Ole-Henrik Moe: Ciaconna -- 3 Persephone Perceptions, consists of two very long solo violin works performed by Moe's wife, violinist Kari Rønnekleiv. A one-time student of Xenakis, Moe is a very busy composer whose extensive work ranges from collaborations with the Arditti String Quartet and playing in jazz groups as violinist to his involvement in electro-acoustic projects like Deathprod and the Norwegian nouveaux-prog band Motorpsycho. Given his ultra-hip credentials, trendy connections, and gutsy willingness to devote two whole discs to experimental violin music, one is inclined to like Moe much as there is a basic motivation in all of us to dig what's cool. This album, though, makes itself very hard to like; its sense of "freedom" is seriously compromised through its orientation in stale European avant-garde and its thoughtless lack of accessibility as a package. One opens up the ECM-ish Rune Grammophon package to find two blank white discs staring back -- the one with 11 tracks is the Ciaconna and the one with three is the 3 Persephone Perceptions -- don't get these lost in your 100-CD changer! (A second glance reveals that the titles to the pieces do appear on the discs, in tiny type printed white-on-white; how conceptual!) At times in the Ciaconna the violin seems to be whispering, almost speaking -- Rønnekleiv certainly has worked hard to achieve these challenging effects and to make them sound good -- but for the balance of the piece, save for these short stretches, it's mainly just the sound of a poor violin being tortured. Nowhere is there any indication as to how the work relates to the Baroque form of the Chaconne; certainly, no rhythmic pattern of any regularity is established, and the piece is far too long.
The beginning of the 3 Persephone Perceptions is a great deal more effective by comparison, at least once it gets started; the disc begins with an extended silence that will make you wonder if your stereo set is working. The First Projection is ghostly, imagistic, and mysterious in the manner of an invading wraith from an old spirit photograph, such as how strong a musical counterpoint to ectoplasmic phenomena in its way as Henry Cowell's The Banshee is. However, the rest is quite familiar territory; the Second Persephone Perception sounds exactly like a violin part from Helmut Lachenmann's string quartet Gran Torso, only played on its own, while the third is like one of La Monte Young's Drift Studies played on the violin, turned up and down at intervals. Again, the whole thing is too long.
Avant-gardists have embraced the extended form for a long time, and fans of the avant-garde do enjoy the challenge of making it to the end of something that takes up the whole side of an album, or a whole CD. And in many cases -- Albert Ayler's Bells, Miles Davis' Circle in the Round, the early LPs by Whitehouse, and several works of Morton Feldman -- listeners' patience is paid off by a depth of listening experience that cannot be achieved in a short or even mid-length piece. There is, however, a limit to how thinly you can spread ideas over such a long compass, and certain kinds of gestures work better in the long form than others. Some listeners who love intense musical challenges might go crazy over this, and perhaps someday Ole-Henrik Moe: Ciaconna -- 3 Persephone Perceptions might be regarded as a trailblazing release in some respects -- who knows in such cases? But the short-term verdict is that it's an awful lot of punishment to take for precious little reward, and there's a sense that it's not because the audience isn't yet ready for what Moe has to offer.