Can you satisfy God with one sound? This question was repeatedly posed to Lachlan Skipworth by his shakuhachi teacher during a three-year period of intensive study in Japan. It sparked a deep exploration of cross-cultural aesthetics that finds expression in this self-titled Navona Records album. At the beginning of each shakuhachi lesson, student and master begin by repeatedly playing a single note on the end-blown bamboo flute. This focuses their minds on core questions of technique: “have I made progress? Am I closer to mastery of this, shakuhachi’s most fundamental note?”
A focus on fundamentals permeates this collection of chamber works composed by Skipworth, a rising star in Australian contemporary music. In the first moments of the Clarinet Quintet, listeners are drawn into his unique sound world with its cascade of angular string entries. Against this, the round cool tone of the main clarinet line articulates, expanding slowly from a single note into the beautiful and at times dramatic melodic line. It sets the scene for the rest of the album, which includes works that reflect traits of the shakuhachi’s honkyoku repertoire; a palindromic reverse-canon evoking Reichian phasing; propulsive, Shostakovich-esque melodies; and meditative explorations in using silence as texture that is indebted to the principles of classical Japanese aesthetics.
There may not be an answer to whether God can be satisfied with one sound. Listeners, however, will be drawn into Skipworth’s innovative and singular musical language in this meditative and original collection of works.