Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has built a reputation as an adventurous musician and composer. Her daring and intricate writing for small groups has been well-received. But despite her love for classical music, she’d long shied away from tackling orchestral composition, thinking it fell outside her purview. Now, with Contemporary Chaos Practices
(Intakt), which features two large-scale genre-bending works for orchestra, improvising soloists and choir — and which stands as a thrilling work of art truly beyond category — she’s proven herself to be a top-flight large-ensemble composer.
So complex are Laubrock’s ideas that she tapped two conductors to lead the orchestra: Eric Wubbels, who guided the through-composed sections, and Taylor Ho Bynum, who led the interactive portions in which the ensemble improvises based on a set of instructions. For the improvised elements, it helped that, along with Laubrock herself, the soloists were guitarist Mary Halvorson
, pianist Kris Davis and trumpeter Nate Wooley — frequent collaborators and fellow freethinkers who are comfortable improvising in a variety of contexts.
“I have an attraction to a certain surreal thing, which is why I wanted the interactive parts,” Laubrock says. “I wanted the orchestra to suddenly tip into a dreamlike state, into a stranger state of consciousness, which is what I think the improvised parts represent.”
Laubrock’s compositions radiate a singular beauty, largely driven by the tension between the composed and improvised sections, between passages of austerity and ecstasy. A mostly self-taught musician, she learned a lot about arranging strings by studying the scores of the late avant-garde classical music composer György Ligeti. “That’s the way I inform myself, looking at other people’s music,” she says. “The degree of detail you have to include to make music not sound flat, to chisel out drama — I have a lot to learn in that aspect, but basically every score you look at is a lesson.”
Laubrock also relies on her instincts. Dreams and other extramusical influences work their way into her compositions. The album title — a reference to the philosophy of chaos magic, which eschews dogmatism in favor of experimentation and individualism — provides a clue to her approach.
“It was something I felt applied to my way of thinking and writing,” Laubrock says. “What I write is almost never purely technical. Sometimes I see something that strikes me in an architectural or geometric sense that gives you a certain motif or certain something to hang the piece up on — something to come back to if you need inspiration, something separate from the music. I have all sorts of things that make it feel personal to me.” —John Frederick Moore
Feature photo by Caroline Mardok.