On Planetary Candidate, violinist and composer Michi Wiancko zips through chaotic extended techniques, glitchy electronics, and lilting melodies, painting a picture of the endless possibilities of modern solo violin playing. Commissioning a group of her friends to write works for her and even composing one of the pieces on the album herself, Wiancko presents an eclectic series of intimate and explosive works that illuminate her virtuosity as a musician with Planetary Candidate.
Wiancko is a chameleonic artist — she’s performed with groups ranging from the International Contemporary Ensemble to Wye Oak and wrote her first opera in 2019, which was presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She brings this plethora of experience to Planetary Candidate, which blends classical, experimental, and electronic influences into one immersive package. Each piece on the record offers something different, giving a breadth to the experience of listening and allowing Wiancko the space to show off her wide-ranging artistic skills.
The most compelling moments of the album come when Wiancko is boundlessly experimental and brash in her playing. The first piece, “Planetary Candidate,” which was composed by Wiancko herself, opens the record with prickly, interlocking col legno melodies that provide a rhythmic backbone for a sweet melody. Although it’s just Wiancko playing, it sounds like a chorus of violins. She’s able to achieve multiplicity as a soloist; that theme runs as an undercurrent throughout the rest of the album.
Paula Matthusen’s “Songs of Fuel and Insomnia” immediately jumps out as one of the record’s standout tracks for its dramatic explorations. The piece opens with squeaky high pitch and an ominous stillness, sliding back and forth between solid tones and airy harmonics. A staticky beat lies underneath a fragmented melody and chaotic electronics; the electronic sounds spiral through a series of alien beeps. The juxtaposition of the organic sounds of the violin and the synthetic sounds of the electronics works because the two exist on such opposite ends of the spectrum. At one point they meld into one, though, which proves equally mesmerizing — violin echoes with a power that’s wild and free, eventually bubbling up into an abrupt ending.
It’s those contrasts that provide the most thrilling journeys of Planetary Candidate. Tracks like Mark Dancigers’s “Skyline” and Christopher Adler’s “Jolie Sphinx” fall flat in comparison, leaning on solo violin folk melodies and melodies like J.S. Bach’s partitas and sonatas instead of providing the intricacy and detail of the other tracks that explore dissimilar ideologies. Wiancko’s nearly perfect performance carries these tracks — her virtuosity is evident throughout.
Planetary Candidate ends with a glissandi-ridden, slippery piece by William Britelle. “Disintegration” sounds like its name — a gradual decay of a cacophony of fragmented melodies. Wiancko pulls out all the stops with her chugging electric violin, floating through an ethereal, hazy melody made of glitzy, reverberant solos. She leaves us with a vibrant memory, pushing ever-forward in the mission to remove genre boundaries.