Ryan Teague is a composer who has chosen to work within the genre identified as ‘post-classical’ by Max Richter, with whom he shares a number of characteristics, notably an interest in exploring the effects of mixing orchestral instruments with synthesised sound sources, and in developing the post-romantic neo-spiritual template established by the Baltic composers Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki. Apart from programming, Teague plays classical guitar and clarinet (and plucks a mean mbira, too) and employs, on this EP, a violinist, a cellist, and – on the first track only – a singer (Chloe Leaper).
Prelude I opens with a mournful, beguilingly affecting strings meditation which quickly attracts a halo of discreet digital embellishment before the introduction of a single chorister’s limpid plainsong locating us foursquare in an unmistakably ecclesiastical environment. It could be anywhere between King’s College and Chartres – the effect is the same: the inescapable gravity of that thousand-year union of church and music. I doubt if it makes any difference whether you’ve ever set foot in a church in your life – that kind of musical sound began resonating against a set of conditions so embedded in Western culture so long ago that it’s unlikely its harmonics will ever stop ringing, however far we travel from the source or the circumstances of their origin. Teague occupies this space with an engaging combination of respect and ingenuousness, introducing unexpected instrumental interventions and layerings that open out into a suddenly quite overwhelming vault of sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. It’s a very impressive beginning indeed.
The remaining five tracks are a perplexing anti-climax. It’s as if Teague had decided to begin by demonstrating how engaging and inclusive he could be if he wanted to, then setting that capability aside in favour of some other, more arcane agenda, which depends on disengaging the heart in favour of the cerebrum, and testing his listener’s patience at looking over his shoulder as he noodles through his experimental sketch-book. Preludes II to VI inclusive, therefore, whereas they all tingle with original ideas and versatile explorations of a sometimes unfamiliar sonic palette, never remotely engage the same exhilaration of Prelude I, nor venture beyond that risky threshold into near-transcendence that illuminates that first, outstanding track. Which is either a pity or a relief according to your sensibility: one man’s enlightenment being the next woman’s obscurity, notoriously. And there’s plenty enough here to keep you on your aural toes without resorting to piety – think a droning John Adams or a de-dramatised Cliff Martinez. There are even glances, in Prelude VI, towards an almost Air-like electro-pop lightness for a few moments. And – a final hermetic joke perhaps – this last track has a false ending, a forty-second silence between what seems to be the end and a final, somewhat inconsequential coda. An EP with a hidden track? What’s that? One step away from the silent single. Roll over Mr Cage, all is forgotten.