In the laboratory that is new music, with its accumulation of extended techniques, there are two kinds of performers: those who play “at” these often intractable methods, and those who organically inhabit them. Cellist Mariel Roberts spends the entirety of her outstanding debut album, Nonextraneous Sounds, in the latter category, executing demanding scores with the familiarity of a Bach cello suite.
Composer Andy Akiho’s “Three Shades, Foreshadows” opens the album, plunging the listener into a disorienting, gamelan-like universe in which the cello is not instantly recognizable as such. Mini clothespins attached to the instrument’s strings produce the first of many effects including Bartók pizzicati, slaps on the body of the cello and windshield wiper–like strokes perpendicular to the strings. Taking Auguste Rodin’s tripartite point-of-view sculpture The Three Shades as his launch point, Akiho positions Roberts’s live performance in the center of the mix, panning sympathetic electronic playback elements to three-dimensional effect.
Roberts’s consummate “normale” classical chops are on display for Sean Friar’s tangentially blues-infused “Teaser.” Midway through the track, the Mivos Quartet member begins drawing out luminous overtones near the cello’s bridge, and even the scratch tones that follow emanate from a place of elegance rather than force. The cycles of white noise and harmonic exertions of Daniel Wohl’s “Saint Arc” and col legno schizophrenia of Alex Mincek’s microtonally constructed “Flutter” keep Nonextraneous filler-free, while Tristan Perich’s wondrous, 8-bit interstellar transmission “Formations” closes out this exceptional collection. The “lab” is generating thrilling new specimens. Piped through the catalyst of Mariel Roberts, the results are prize-worthy.