Record Reviews

Praise for We Who Walk Again:

“The album includes a rambunctious version of Oliveros’s 1980 text score “Angels & Demons” … an appealingly loose set of overlapping, gently discordant long tones, occasionally ruptured by knotty bass rumbling that slowly intensifies. The general drone is steadily punctured by internal skirmishes between the instruments—sometimes frictive, sometimes piercing. Strings, accordion, and reeds coalesce in wonderfully sour harmonies—a collective move that still allows for each instrumentalist to freely express their individual personalities. The album opens with “60 Degree Mirrors,” a wonderful work by the group’s oboist Sky Macklay that draws inspiration from “geometric-mosaic patterns.” The work toggles between sustained astringent pitches highlighted by serene, rippling waves and stirring, ominous surges of sound. The combined effect delivers a woozy merry-go-round effect, a warped ride both exhilarating and bit scary. The album concludes with “Wind People,” a massive drone of lapidary detail by the group’s accordionist Ben Richter, that thrums, throbs, and glides with surging and ebbing density.”

— Peter Margasak, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: June 2018 (read more here)

“The Macklay piece, inspired by kaleidoscope patterns, oscillates between brief, rhythmically oriented kernels and somewhat stretched-out sequences, the tones in the latter engagingly sour, especially the multiphonics and microtones from the oboe. There’s a certain wry playfulness to it — at times it reminded me of a calliope — and an interesting mix of modern techniques within a structure that retains an amount of classicalness. It might fit comfortably into a Bang On a Can program, but it’s better than that.

Oliveros’s ‘Angels & Demons’ is a text score, asking the ensemble to evoke “collective guardian spirits” (angels) and “individual spirits of creative genius” (demons) … Low, growling bass attacks help ground the long, floating lines above; soil and mist. Very fine ensemble playing — excellent listening to one another.

The Richter work occupies Side B. A cloudy, mysterious and dark opening, low rumbles and moans with the odd sharp glint through the shadows. It throbs, pulsates, moves inch by inch, Beckettian in its slow spread. Some wonderful tonalities are generated in the shifting lines of varying lengths, the interplay of those deep tones with the soft plucking of the harp and an occasional hesitant but steady, dull beat of a drum. Matters begin to coalesce toward the end, dense lines forming, surging off into the hazy dark, perhaps offering just a bit more direction than was apparent at the start; not a light at the end of a tunnel, but maybe the faintest of glimmers. A very strong piece, my favorite on this recording.

Very good work all around, certainly a group to keep an eye on.”

— Brian Olewnick, Just Outside (read more here)

Music composed for a deep listening that fixes you in the present has fascinated me for well over a decade now. As someone who is constantly thinking of the past or the future, I find it incredibly challenging to stay with the present. When I do manage to rise to the challenge I always find it transformative, and I’ve never risen to that challenge without the help of present-focused music. We Who Walk Again by Ghost Ensemble—released on May 18th—is full of such music. Indeed, the ensemble “takes as a common touchstone the Deep Listening practice of Pauline Oliveros,” whose work Angels and Demons is featured. Beautifully performed and recorded, these unique pieces get their full due on this album.

60 Degree Mirrors by Sky Macklay … After an abrupt full-ensemble pulsation, shards of high, biting clusters cut through sparser moments and the occasional swooping scalar motion, evoking the kaleidoscope implied by the title. Towards the middle of the piece these high clusters take over the texture, the piercing sounds demanding your attention without ever moving you forward in time; that is, keeping you in the present. This section transforms into a texture that incorporates lower sounds and a rhythmic lick that recurs unpredictably. The piece ends again in the high register, with slow-moving clusters.

Angels and Demons by Pauline Oliveros … Dyads and intricate, denser chords float in and out of the air against a backdrop of quiet cymbal scraping. Suddenly a growling contrabass line interjects into the gossamer texture, which then begins to swell in volume, growing into a body-felt sound mass. Skittering blocks and a tumbling rhythm give way to breathy grunting and accented harp chords. The sound mass returns, enveloping, pulsing, and eventually dissipating. A frenetic wind line cuts through a low-resonance foundation just before the piece fades to silence.

Wind People by Ben Richter … The piece emerges out of a hushed stasis, the contrabass lines repeating two notes in unpredictable rhythmic patterns amid an almost drone-like sustaining texture. Subtle, deep moaning gestures appear after about 4 minutes, effecting an eventual transformation of the drone-like texture into something more unsettled. The descending gestures persist, seemingly pulling ever-deeper even as the volume subtly increases. Winds and accordion pierce through this around minute 8, but the pull into the deep continues. Three minutes later the piercing sounds return, raising the volume considerably. Deeper and more resonant the piece continues, in a multifaceted texture that evokes the primeval. As the end approaches, the entire ensemble focuses in on one note, swelling loud and soft, before diminishing by nano-decibels over several minutes into silence.”

— Meg Wilhoite, meg’s new music blog (read more here)

“Since its inception Ghost Ensemble has been associated with Oliveros’ work … it is fitting that We Who Walk Again, their debut recording, features the first studio recording of the Oliveros piece Angels and Demons … Starting in the Feldman realm of spare pianissimo fragments, a long range crescendo shapes the piece … enabled by successively more penetrating held pitches, extended techniques, syncopated percussion, and an eventual blossoming of rangy melodic gestures …

The group’s oboist Sky Macklay is also a composer on the rise … Macklay’s 60 Degree Mirrors revels in the extended techniques available to winds. Her command of multiphonics and microtones on the oboe is prodigious … The piece also has spectral roots, with shimmering overtones, particularly “crunchy” upper partials, demonstrating an edgier side of the “deep listening” continuum. 60 Degree Mirrors is not just technically sophisticated; it has considerable dramatic heft and proves to be a thrilling listen.

Ghost Ensemble’s founder, accordionist and composer Ben Richter, provides the recording’s other piece, Wind People … it affords the group the opportunity to stretch out and engage in the shaping of a larger arc. Long glissandos played by bassist James Ilgenfritz provide a particularly resonant touchstone, and similar sliding tones from violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Maria Hadge underscore its structural character. Meanwhile, the winds explore all manner of overtones, sometimes punctuating the proceedings with held pitches appearing in contrast to the yawning slides, at others engaging in pitch bends of their own. Percussionist Chris Nappi provides under-girding drums, subtle yet insistent … Over time, sustain becomes a powerful force traversing all instruments and registers, and sumptuous overtone chords saturate the work. A coda provides a long diminuendo in which overtones fade into thrumming drums, drones, and string glissandos. Wind People is a well-crafted and eloquent work

Richter says that he sought to “draw a sense of peace and comfort from our smallness, transience, and fragility in the face of an overwhelming immensity, the music mirroring the constant ebb and flow visible when zooming in or out to quantum or geological time.” Amid today’s tumult, drawing peace and comfort from deep listening is a worthy goal, one that Ghost Ensemble appears poised to attain often.

— Christian Carey, Sequenza21 (read more here)

“Ghost Ensemble do a pretty admirable job … three compositions, two by members of the group and one by famed John Cage contemporary Pauline Oliveros, roar and overtake you … Best of all it all sounds quite fresh … there’s a spark here that seems to have been missing from some of the experimental music I’ve had the at times (dis)pleasure of hearing.”

— Christopher Stigliano, Blog to Comm (read more here)

“All the members of Ghost Ensemble are creative and remarkable musicians … the ensemble became famous for interesting, evocative and original compositions … full of interesting and colorful timbres, sounds and tones … We Who Walk Again’s three compositions are absolutely different from each other … 60 Degrees Mirrors is very expressive and passionate. Colorful and inventive instrumentation … sharp and aggressive harmony … effective, original, rich and colorful musical language. Virtuosic and rapid passages, impressive and furiously fast solos, dark and heavy tremolos and drum rolls, turbulent and dramatic culminations, aggressive, sharp and harsh solos are gently fused together …

Angels and Demons … vivid and gorgeous solos, colorful and extraordinary sounds, strange timbres … a wide range of different musical expressions and inventive playing techniques … vivacious sound.

Wind People is the opposite … quiet and subtle sound … static and dark tones … melodic and rhythmic intonations are organically and effectively fused together in one place … synthesis between minimalism, post-minimalism, experimental music, academic avant-garde and free improvisation … effective, extraordinary and meditative sound.

Avant Scena (read more here)

Concert Reviews

A Ghost Ensemble premiere that doesn't demand close listening but does reward it, Ben Richter's Rewild starts as a strictly metred scattering of percussive noises and melodic fragments but comes in short order to resemble an old, lost folk song found and slowed, before dissolving into tonal waves. Two basses, cello and viola, oboe, flute and Richter's accordion carry us toward midnight rather dreamily.

Ghost Ensemble then returned with the premiere of Catherine Lamb's interius/exterius. Extended dissonances by the ensemble are decorated with delicate notes from Lucia Stavros's harp. Eventually, the harp gathers mass, the other instruments drop out and the piece resolves in a beautiful, asymmetrical, descending solo.

The rest of the musicians slowly join the ensemble onstage and around the room for Pauline Oliveros's NY Air (Arctic Air). The poet IONE (Oliveros's partner and frequent collaborator) appears via video link with a homily: "I know, I am listening, no argument, my body is sound, listening guides my body...". Where there had been no divide between instruments, now, it seems, there is no division between sound waves and the other waves in the air, between the room and the experience of being in the room, between Brooklyn and IONE in the ether.

On Location: Infrequent Seams

Kurt Gottschalk, The Wire, March 2023

Ghost Ensemble is full of good musicians and they play with notable intensity … The stimulating pleasure of the concert had a lot to do with quality and their independent attitude.

Gann’s attractive score moves back and forth between an oblique minimalism—shifting chords and an angular, descending harp melody—and a graceful, amiable structure of melody and countermelody … Debating the specific style is an indication of how interesting and enjoyable the music is.

Richter’s Star Maker shared a philosophy with the concert opener—Pauline Oliveros’ The Well and the Gentle—and the work that followed Richter’s, Giacinto Scelsi’s duo for cello and bass, Dharana (the latter given a gripping performance). All these pieces use sound to seek an altered consciousness, from a meditative awareness to a look, perhaps, into a different dimension.

The Well and the Gentle opened the night, and is one of Oliveros’ “Deep Listening” pieces: a structured improvisation that depends on the players following each other’s ideas, giving the mostly long tones the feeling of controlled drifting from one improvised chord to the next … the ensemble produced a consistent full sonority, and it was clear how avidly they were listening to each other.

Scelsi’s piece goes forcefully in the opposite direction, the cello and bass pressing sustained, tight dissonances against each other, trying to crack open the fabric of reality. One simple, and remarkably beautiful technique is the use of long, slow vibrato, the sound waves yawing across a space that sounds like an ego-destroying abyss.

Richter’s work fell in the middle of these sensibilities, waxing and waning in density and volume … There are two musicians who spend most of the piece rubbing stones slowly against pieces of concrete. The gesture is a striking connection to the music of Jürg Frey and the Wandelweiser school, but where that music is quiet, Star Maker is dense and weighty. With the stones, the music sounds like something incomprehensibly massive is passing by, slowly.

Different in style, but equal in quality, were works from Simon Steen-Andersen and Macklay. The latter, 60 Degree Mirrors, pushes complex sounds together—such as multiphonics in oboe and flute—and is more technical than spiritual. It’s no less satisfying, though, with a touch of Ligeti’s “clouds’ quality and a bit of creative unpredictability. Macklay uses disciplined means towards expressive ends.

Steen-Andersen’s Study for String Instruments #1 does one thing, and it does it fantastically well. The viola and cello play rising and falling glissandos, together in time, up and down the entire length of a string … The sound and sight of this elide in the uncanny sensation that one is seeing an oscillator’s amplitude and frequency modulate but with entirely different results.

Not a weak link in the bunch … strong music, made with a singular spirit.”

Ghost Ensemble embodies the spirit of rugged independence

— George Grella, New York Classical Review, May 18, 2014

Interviews & Podcasts

The Musical Ecologies Radio Hour

Ghost Ensemble in conversation with Dan Joseph, May 14, 2016

Sound American #7: Deep Listening

Ghost Ensemble in conversation with Nate Wooley, November 16, 2013