One of Estonia’s leading (and most prolific) composers, Urmas Sisask is also a dedicated amateur astronomer. Living in a small town in the west of the country he operates a musical observatory tower and planetarium where he gives lecture-concerts and observes the stars and the heavens. There is something of the shaman about Sisask: ‘My mission is to learn the harmony of the musical instrument of the universe and to make it audible to the people. Thus I do not consider myself a composer; my job is just to find and write down the existing music.’ The result is what he calls ‘astro-music’, a compositional language that is at once atavistic and scientific, born of both intuition and methodology: alongside a purely instinctive response to his astronomical discoveries he has devised a pentatonic scale whose pitches are arrived at by regarding the rotation of celestial bodies as an oscillation of fixed frequencies, and this five-note mode underpins much of his work.
Benedictio is typical of Sisask’s music in the luminous clarity of its textures and the fresh simplicity of its harmony. The piece is in two parts: in the first, neo-primitive bare fifths in earthy compound metres are overlaid with delicate melodic tendrils and explosive dyads. The second part is more extended, its workings more obsessive. A single line of text is sung again and again and again like a mantra. The basses’ initial two-bar ground is heard a full twenty-nine times. This is ecstatic music—a cosmic dance of great ritual power, its hypnotic, incantatory repetitions a vividly contemporary re-imagining of primordial runic song.
from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2010