Patrick Higgins' new album Tocsin is full of thrilling opposites: A modern classical record with a punk/noise ethos, from a composer who has lived and breathed both identities. A masterclass of visceral genre-bending sounds, that are physical and delicate at the same time. This is modern classical chamber music, and everything that comes with that: thorny, cerebral, technically difficult – infinitely analyzable. But essential to Higgins' purpose is to begin with the spirit of the hardcore punk and noise scenes, a kind of concert music from the underground. If your path to this music is through Higgins' work in legendary avant-rockers Zs, you will feel this music, before you start making sense of it. The compositions explore cutting edge musical dimensions, like microtonality, harmony, and very specific theoretical experiments in timbre and innovative music notation.
But what Patrick Higgins cares about most of all is the possibility for music to radically rearrange the human environment it is heard in. As he puts it, "introducing new ritual into the presentation of concert music, socially as much as artistically." While there are no coded messages, this is urgent music, social music: expressionistic and philosophical works of what the composer calls ‘crisis music'. The compositions in Tocsin are quote-unquote difficult music, but they make you feel deeply, being music as much of the heart as of the head. That is a rare accomplishment for sounds as experimental as these.
Over the course of three large compositions, the listener is brought on a journey of constant surprise: as when the sound of violins dissolves into a cloudburst of pure noise, more at home in an underground electronics show than anything that appears on a concert stage. And yet the music is written and performed with expertise, precision, and vibrancy. A new virtuosity inspired and created by the collaboration of these excellent musicians. These chamber pieces are years in the making, masterful works of a high order. The LP edition begins with a special Higgins arrangement of Bach, a nod to his previous solo guitar album for Telegraph Harp, Bachanalia.