Any composer-biography of Bill Ryan is going to tell you that he was inspired by minimalism, among other things, and the minimalist exactnesses in the opening tracks of Towards Daybreak are an expression of hesitancy—the bass clarinet in the title piece, track two, sneaks at a climax, pauses, goes back to the beginning of its crawl, starts again, almost gets to the climax again, hesitates, loses heart, and goes back. The instrument’s mournful doleful hoot makes it mildly funny: this sad clown unable to pick up a piece of cake or a balloon. Finally, it gets there and turns into a xylophone or a glockenspiel or something the opposite of what it was, which is a nice metaphor for the transformation effected by success or sunlight and not overworked or really too obvious.
The best moments of the album come with nice, quiet, witty effects. His loud moments are not as sharp, I think, as the quiet ones, and here it should be useful to draw a comparison with Steve Reich’s 1976 piece, “Music for 18 Musicians”, which was recorded by Ryan with his own ensemble in 2007. Reich’s louds are loud, but the notes stand out individually, they fall in space, the spread of noise complicated by this persnickity planting movement. Ryan’s louds are more like Sigur Ros at the end of ( ), they rise up in clouds, without the same complication.