BLOG – A Review of Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble’s Realign the Time


  • Realign the Time – Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
  • October 2014
  • –––––––
  • Three Madrigals – Max Grafe
    1. Bantams in Pinewood
    2. Tea
    3. Fabliau of Florida
  • 4. Squarepushers – Amanda Feery
  • 5. Le Salève – Jonathan Sokol
  • 6. Decantations for voices – Ravi Kittappa
  • 7. Hommage – David Grant
  • so evenings die – Morgan Krauss
    1. I
    2. II
    3. III
  • 11. Communiqué – Anthony T. Marasco


Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble approach singing with fervor and abandon, and they continually work to influence composition for the voice as fearless advocates for its composers. On the group’s debut recording, Realign the Time, text dissolves, reforms, disintegrates. Vocal timbres interweave with non-sung sounds. Bits of improvisation flow seamlessly in and out of strict composition. The album is brilliantly programmed to allow individual works to contextualize and support one another. The result is a fascinating combination of inviting vocalism, abstract sound, and beautiful narrative shining with musicality and interpretive acumen.

Max Grafe’s Three Madrigals vigorously opens the album with a display of Quince’s paradoxical ease of unanimity and individuality. The piece reformulates the madrigal’s traditional exploration of text, exploiting the already-musical, onomatopoetic qualities of Wallace Steven’s poetry. In setting the work’s final word, “surf,” is particularly effective. The word and the musical-poetic meaning of its sounds grow in inverse proportion. As the word itself dissolves into sound, its true meaning takes shape.

Three Madrigals, Fabliau of Florida

“Realign the time,” the short, repeated text of Amanda Feery’s Squarepushers, is both the album’s title and mantra. The phrase emerges out of a placid, water-like chorus of humming and becomes an instruction as we listen. If we follow, the work acts as a portal from the relatively syllabic setting of Grafe’s madrigals to the many sounds, colors, and textures that follow.

As if to emphasize the point, Jonathan Sokol’s Le Salève practically presses reset. The piece’s opening sibilants recall the stuttering “ch-ch-ch-ch-Chieftain Iffucan” from the record’s first ten seconds. Rather than exploding into poetic declamation (as do the Three Madrigals), the sounds of Le Salève reveal a seemingly random magnetic poetry of S words. The alliteration is essential to Sokol’s structuring of multiple musical directions with the close, even quarter-tone, harmonies and sliding chromaticism of a recombinant barbershop quartet.

Le Salève benefits from the album’s production. The pop-like presence of the voices brings the non-sung sounds into relief, even if, on the record as a whole, there are moments where a more classical production might allow harmonies to better swim within themselves. Still, the sheer variety of sounds contained in the first three pieces of Realign the Time are made all the more impressive because they result from combining only voice and text.

When in Decantations by Ravi Kittappa instrumental and electronic sounds do appear, it is as if they emerge from the voices’ vast and already-established sonic palette. At the outset of Decantations, the shruti box drone, which accompanies Tamil-texted unison singing, betrays the influence of Indian classical music. But, Kittapa questions its typical layered melodies and repeating, ornamented rhythmic patterns by building Decantions on virtually rhythm-less, increasingly lush vertical sonorities. Electronics gradually transform the acoustic sound, and wide vibrato calls periodic attention to individual voices. Quince’s ability to seamlessly transition in and out of textures of four-in-one vocal quadrinity, trio-supported soloist, or equal and individual four-part polyphony is one of the highlights of this record.

This skill is nowhere more apparent than in David Grant’s Hommage, where brief, playfully accidental encounters with solo voices give way to an exultant chorus of pulsed Ahs punctuated by moments of silent breath. This oft-hidden yet essential part of singing rises to the surface in the following piece, Morgan Krauss’s so evenings die, lending an almost bodily rhythmic atmosphere to the music. The entry of the text is the work’s—and perhaps the whole album’s—defining moment, as if the music were gathering the last of life’s energy, its final breath before the ecstatic dying utterance: “Beauty is momentary in the mind — / The fitful tracing of a portal; / […] / The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.” In Krauss’s setting, Wallace Steven’s words are a potent swan song.

so evenings die, III

Communiqué by Anthony T. Marasco seems to summarize the record. Straightforwardly presenting text, as do Grafe’s madrigals, Communiqué shares the improvisatory nature of Squarepushers, the consonant-derived sound effects of Le Salève, and the non-vocal and electro-musical textures of DecantationsCommuniqué’s electronically shaded sung texture, which supports the spoken narration, aptly illustrates the geographical and emotional distance between the anonymous narrator and Karen, who flees her life in America for Europe.

Likewise, Quince traverse unafraid the vast, imaginary expanse between abstract sound and a beautifully told story. They test the voice’s under-tapped potential in contemporary composition, and they leave no question that its musical possibilities are innumerable. Realign the Time is a strong debut from a group sure to play a big role in reconceiving vocal composition in twenty-first-century music.


Realign the time is available from Quince’s website, from iTunes, and from cdbaby. Digital liner notes are available here.  Quince’s debut album, Realign the Time, was made possible by the generous support from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.

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