JAZZWISE   June 2001


Michael Mantler
Hide and Seek

Using American hip Writer Paul Auster's Beckettian style duologue as a starting point, Michael Mantler has created an oratorio of haunting contemporary originality.

Utilising an eclectic mix of musicians from classical (violins, violas, cellos, oboe, clarinets, French horn), folk and rock genres (accordion, guitar, marimba, piano) and with Mantler himself on trumpet the work breaks down into ensemble passages without words (collectively called Unsaid) and libretto sections sung by Susi Hyldgaard and Robert Wyatt.

The dialogue takes the form of question and answer between man and woman based on grammatic acrobatics woven around a theme examining the dichotomy between words as words and words as something to say. It is an interesting conceit and Hyldgaard and Wyatt invest the dialogue of verbal conundrum with a real sense of circumspection and chopped logic. The work is nearer to music drama than opera with Mantler's composed score providing the necessary musical platform for the ensuing game of vocal hide and seek.

The varied use of instrumentation (guitar and accordion as chanson band, an augmented string quartet or keening electric guitar or marimba adding percussive punctuation under Wyatt's ethereal vocals) keeps proceedings interesting and the intriguing nature of the text is perfectly complemented by Mantler's edgy and surprising juxtaposition of sounds.

Robert Wyatt must be singled out though, for his approach is so unique that it gives the piece its real sense of highwire expectancy without a safety net.

- John Cratchley