Pale Horse is smothering, disturbing. Any time one member of this trio makes a sound – whether it’s a paranoid whimper or a brash, night terror yelp – it is forced to writhe across the personal space of the other two; each instrument is constantly trying to recoil away from the rest, pushing back in panic, emitting grunts and sighs of protest at the uncomfortable level of intimacy. The collaborative engagement between clarinet, cello and drums doesn’t feel voluntary, and rather than willingly initiating communication with one another, any vocalisation paradoxically feels like a call for silence – an agitated request to the other parties to shut up and be still.
Percussion is a crucial presence. Instead of pushing the melodic conversation forward, the drums forms solid blockades – slammed doors, squealing brakes – that seem more intent on bringing everything to a halt. They are sporadic, abrupt, jabbing woodwind in the throat, bumping the bow away from the strings, but instead of successfully hushing the other instruments and reinstating the breathing space of silence, the other instruments squeal and fight back – a sudden thump during “Ghost” sends the piece wailing and rattling toward the album’s horrible intensity peak, threatening to capsize the ensemble by rocking the space turbulently back and forth. 38 minutes ends up feeling much longer for feeling choked out and unable to move, and I find myself gulping at open air as my period of confinement eventually comes to a close, cleansing in the light that seeps back in again. Just as with last year’s Sky Burial, I am caught between Cymerman’s improvisational conflict rather than simply observing it, swatting away clarinet breaths as they wrap snake-like around my chest.