“Mutations are incremental, stochastic changes in genetic material — the noise in our genes,” explains pianist Vijay Iyer in the notes to his latest recording. Mutations, the 10-part new-music suite that lends his album its name, seems more an experiment in variation than mutation, and the spare electronic effects that decorate different sections of the suite with its string quartet and piano are often more musical than simple noise. Iyer has composed themes that readily take to variation and then countered them with passages where improvisation trumps theme. The minimalism of “Air,” the suite’s first section, starts with sounds that recall pipe organ, before expanding into gestures and exclamations buoyed on repeated cello tones. The haunting “Canon” repeats folk-influenced lines from the violins before the viola and cello take up more ominous tones. The piano finds common ground between the two then, alone, strikes a playful three-count figure. The strings rise again, darkly, accented by a single, pulsing bass note fromthe piano. “Chain” entangles an abbreviated clave beat with twining strings and a dancing piano line. Some of the pieces are predictable, especially “Rise,” with its slow ascending slide of strings. The three stand-alone pieces that surround the suite, with their touch of electronics and meandering minor-key piano lines, are the recording’s strangest, yet beautiful. Despite those “stochastic” changes, little here seems random or pointlessly noisy.
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