In October, 100COPIES will celebrate the launch of likely one of the most unique and sophisticated projects in their production stock thus far. Created by the venerable composer, teacher, and musicologist Dr. Nahla Mattar, the contemporary classical, string album “Isis,” is utterly enchanting. For years now, Dr. Mattar has been something of ambassadors for contemporary chamber music, determined and successful at breaking down barriers between musical genres, and the mediums of electro acoustic and digital music productions.
Made up of three acts, “Isis” opens up with a magnificent string quartet that leads the listener through the first act. The opening act sets forward the conversational stage between the string instruments as each song leads into the next. Combing various rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic approaches the opening act presents the enigmatically beautiful string quartet, which sets out to retrieve a musical past with a sense of resignation. By the time we reach “Red Dust” it becomes clear that Dr. Mattar’s minimalistic chamber music is both classical, and yet uniquely contemporary as the screeching strings succeed in building tension that can often only be found in avant-garde or noise soundscapes.
In the second act, the album takes a more fantastical turn with just the right amount of tension built up by the percussive plucks of the harp juxtaposed against rapid, whimsical trills. It is here that we begin to better understand the mythical, yet minimalistic nature of the album – the harp duo portrays the intersection of myth and the chaos of reality that colors the entire composition.
By the third act, we reach the melancholic duo of a cello and viola as they dance around each other in ominous dialogue. In addition, the dry almost raw recording of the instruments coupled with the tender tonal passages and percussive plucks give the entire album a sense of great expression. Overall, the album feels like a historical vessel tying the forgotten pieces of Egypt’s Pharaonic past with the today’s modern mayhem.