Writing on Frank Denyer without remaining stuck in “Zen for dummies” clichés is no small feat. Firstly, I’d have to mask an unconditional admiration for the man (as well as the composer) behind the detachment of a stern analyst. Which, alas, I am not capable of doing. Denyer shares with this writer, obviously unbeknown to him, several facets of the awareness of existing as a temporally limited entity embedded in infinity. Especially with respect to the illusion of “counting for something” on a cosmic level. For the basics, we suggest Sam Richards’ excellent article “At Close Quarters” in the February 2020 issue of The Wire. If you want to learn about Denyer’s philosophy in a way that suits a serious student, his book In The Margins Of Composition (Vision Edition) is a must.
As for The Boundaries Of Intimacy, Denyer — whose liner notes are refreshingly coherent and verbosity-free — notes that this music should be imagined as played by someone who is practicing in a room, rather distant from the listener and unwilling to disturb. The title is derived from the piece “Beyond the Boundaries Of Intimacy”, for flute and electronics, handled by dedicatee Jos Zwaanenburg. Curiously, this is the lone chapter that left me a tiny bit cold, even if it fully corresponds to Denyer’s sonic Weltanschauung.
However, the program does include unmissable jewels. “String Quartet”, performed by Luna String Quartet, encloses in 18 minutes Denyer’s entire artistic afflatus, fusing tenderness and rigor in splendid fashion. Also remarkable are “Two Female Singers and Two Flutes”, vaguely evoking certain explorations of original vocal expression typical of 1970s’ Meredith Monk, and “Frog”, a microtonal study — humble and sensual at the same time — featuring violist Elisabeth Smalt on the sneh. The latter is an instrument devised and built by Denyer, bearing the name of his wife’s prematurely disappeared sister.
Every emission heard on this record is precious, and so is Denyer’s unwillingness to be influenced by what may lie ahead. He knows the silence from which a concept originates, the ability of a performer to understand the diverse nuances of an acoustic event (incidental or not, whether it is a sound or a simple noise), the intuition of something that may or may not materialize in compositional form, but is definitely affecting his being. The missing sounds are still there to be perceived and used, somehow. Preposterously enough, Denyer’s music — as modest as it is deeply moving, in various ways — might represent a shock for devotees of orchestral vaniloquence. Or, in other words, acknowledging the consistency of the ground under our feet may turn out to be more essential than debating the Higgs Boson.