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Maya Shenfeld’s expansive, kaleidoscopic music is as illuminating as it is exquisite. Classically trained, Shenfeld has fast grown into one of contemporary music’s most exciting, vital voices. Every aspect of her dazzling, multifaceted output interrogates the way we experience the world around us - be it solo microtonal explorations, site-specific installations or commissions for leading New Music ensembles. Shenfeld’s 2022 debut album In Free Fall established the composer as a potent force in new music. Hailed by the Guardian as one of the year’s “best contemporary albums,” Shenfeld balances orchestral ambition and compositional rigor with the joy of noise, and granular detail. Under the Sun provides a daring expansion of that musical vision, a series of pieces exploring change and repetition, deep time and the ephemeral moment, equilibrium and imminent threat. Composed and produced over the last two years between a studio in Berlin and on site at one of the world’s deepest marble quarries in Portugal, the album’s powerful sounds are a meditation on the natural world, wrestling with the looming threat of catastrophe and crisis, and the power of community and collaboration to enact change.
Under the Sun’s evocative title is an excerpt from a proverb “There’s nothing new under the sun” from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in the Old Testament. Shenfeld elaborates: “It’s an unusual book within the Old Testament that isn’t so much preoccupied with god or religion but rather reflects on life's impermanence and the pursuit of meaning amidst change and uncertainty… this image of the Sun as a force of stability, change, and tension really stuck with me.” Shenfeld’s excerpted title creates a distance between the stoic philosophy of the proverb and the evidence this is distinctly not the case, especially in relation to the climate. Our environment is more than just an abstract theme, it is interwoven into Under The Son’s very sonic DNA. Field recordings taken deep within the still-active quarry in Portugal were recorded, quite literally, under the scorching sun on one of the hottest days on record in the country. Shenfeld extracted sounds from this scarred, deeply mined landscape, and threaded these samples into rich arrangements of synthesizers and acoustic instruments. She explains: “Our physical experience under the scorching sun (which was reflected by the white marble) gave shape to the album’s final form.” Sounds recorded closer to Shenfeld’s adopted home of Berlin provide a hopeful, human counterpoint, playing with tension and release. The atmospheres of Under the Sun evoke that push and pull through an eclectic and rich sonic palette, from the sacred sounds of the organ at St Matthew’s Church, to the ethereal voices of the Ritter Youthchoir conducted by Ann-Kristin Mayr. Reflections of her punk and electronic forays bubble up in a collaborative composition with Emptyset’s James Ginzburg, summoning raw, primal energy. Says Shenfeld “There’s a juxtaposition here between the heavy electronic processing, which could be the sound of a dystopian future or past, and the choir, which like in the Greek tragedy, could be the voice of a shared consciousness, and maybe a voice of a hopeful future.”
Rather than being nihilistic or fatalistic, Under the Sun instead encourages us to explore and rethink how we relate to our environment. Shenfeld’s slowly evolving, hypnotic pieces make canny use of repetition, space and silence to play with our very sense of time and our relationship to our surroundings, creating a space for deep listening that enables us to better attune our ears to the world around us, championing collective listening and collaboration as a force for change.