Composer & violinist Jessica Moss shares new album

Max Richter, Hilary Hahn, Jessica Moss
Max Richter, Hilary Hahn, Jessica Moss

Phosphenes is the first album in three years from the acclaimed composer-violinist and features the “Contemplation Suite” requiem on Side One, her most formally modern/post-classical work.

Prior to her electroacoustic solo career, Jessica Moss was best known for her 15-year tenure in agitprop postpunk band Thee Silver Mt. Zion and as a founding member of the avant-Klezmer ensemble Black Ox Orkestar, alongside contributions to dozens of recordings by the likes of Carla Bozulich, Vic Chesnutt, Basia Bulat, Roy Montgomery, Big|Brave and Sarah Davachi.

The title of the resolute, heart-rending new album by composer/violinist Jessica Moss could not be better chosen. Moss is by now a seasoned practitioner of immersive isolation music; across three previously acclaimed solo records of minimal and maximal post-industrial contemporary composition, her acoustic, amplified, looped, distorted and electronically-shifted violin is the raw material for deeply expressive, palpably haunting, wholly committed longform compositions. Phosphenes is the most incisive and inexorable music Moss has made to date, inscribing halos of refracted light out of deep solitude and hermitic darkness with especially solemn determination and intensity.

In the three-movement “Contemplation Suite” on Side One, Moss exquisitely navigates consonance and dissonance, patiently building from single notes to harmonic clusters and melodic voicings. Violin amplification is deployed to activate overtones, pitch-shifts, live overdubbing and layered depth-of-field. Based on a four-note sequence that sets whole tones against one another, this is a bona fide requiem the finds Moss at her most instrumentally naturalistic, measured, and modern. With its musical focus squarely on the notes and intervals, shaped by her through-composed stylistic playing and performance, the “Contemplation Suite” is Moss’s most formally accomplished post-classical work—and an irrefutably powerful lament.

Side Two unfolds in a more portentous vein: “Let Down” is marked by cavernous octave-dropped arco and pizzicato, providing a gothically-inflected substratum upon which plangent wordless vocal invocations and cumulative gyres of violin melody unfurl. “Distortion Harbour” grinds with noisier grit, tracing a tremendous arc of darkwave crescendo, also shot through with vocal calls, and intensified by strobing power electronics: Moss at her harrowing maximalist best. Both songs highlight Moss’s ambient-metal, ethereal-noise sensibility and her distinctive palette of industrial-inflected signal-bending—a reminder of why she’s also been a go-to player for the likes of Big Brave, Oiseaux-Tempête and Zu in recent years. Album closer “Memorizing & Forgetting” is inarguably the most tender and overtly touching song in Jessica’s oeuvre: a keening lullabye of sorts, on which she plays piano, violin and guitar, joined by Julius Lewy in a lustrous ambient vocal duet.

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