The American Contemporary Music Ensemble – better known to its many admirers as ACME – has long enjoyed a reputation as one of New York’s finest new-music outfits, as well as one of its most versatile. Founded in 2004 by cellist and artistic director Clarice Jensen (alongside conductor Donato Cabrera and publicist Christina Jensen), the group has featured some of the city’s finest freelance musicians in a repertoire that spans from Arnold Schoenberg to Caroline Shaw and all points in between, and has collaborated with a broad range of distinctive artists: filmmakers, dance companies, post-rock groups, and more.
Thrive on Routine, ACME’s forthcoming release on the consistently impressive audiophile label Sono Luminus, finds the ensemble in especially familiar territory, including pieces by three noteworthy composers who also happen to be ACME members – Caleb Burhans, Caroline Shaw, and Timo Andres – with a gorgeous work by John Luther Adams as a grand finale. The album includes two discs: a standard CD and a Blu-ray disc featuring surround-sound options.
“This collection of pieces was chosen for very pure and simple reasons – each of these works is a piece we love and to which we feel quite intimately connected,” Jensen says of the album in a press statement. “The performance of this music is an expression of affection and closeness, not just to each other as performers, but also to the composer who wrote it. It was also chosen for this album, to exist on recorded media, because it is work that should exist in other scenarios beyond the concert experience: a long, slow walk; a frenetic commute; a late evening at home. This curated selection of works comes from different but rhyming sonic worlds and is some of the music we have grown to love the most in this varied and fast-changing world.”
The disc comes out Feb. 24, but ACME and Sono Luminus have graciously allowed us to share in advance the Adams composition, In a Treeless Place, Only Snow.
In addition to Jensen, ACME performers featured on the Adams piece are violinists Yuki Numata Resnick and Ben Russell, Caleb Burhans on viola, pianist Timo Andres, Peter Dugan on celesta, and Chris Thompson and Chihiro Shibayama on vibraphones.
The composition is meant to evoke sensations of the titular landscape. On the subject of evoking such vistas, Adams wrote (in an essay included in Winter Music: A Composer’s Journal):
“In art and music, landscape is usually portrayed as an objective presence, a setting within which subjective human emotions are experienced and expressed. But can we find other ways of listening in which the landscape itself – rather than our feelings about it – becomes the subject? Better yet: can the listener and the landscape become one?
“If in the past the more melodic elements of my music have somehow spoken of the subjective presence, the human figure in the landscape, in the new piece there’s no one present… only slowly changing light and color on a timeless white field.
“I remember the Gwich’in name for a place in the Brooks Range: ‘In a Treeless Place, Only Snow.’”
Eager to hear more? You won’t have to wait much longer for the album, but New Yorkers can hear ACME perform selections from the album by Andres, Burhans, and Shaw, alongside Stringsongs by Meredith Monk, in a Monk-curated February 13 concert at Roulette. For now, check out excerpts from further works on ACME’s Facebook page, and savor this 2015 live recording of Caleb Burhans’s trenchant Jahrzeit posted on YouTube:
Preorder Thrive on Routine via Amazon.com, or make yourself a note to pick it up at your favorite retailer on Feb. 24.