Per Nørgård's music sounds like sonified math, an algebraic equation unfurling across time and mingling with Reichian phase shifting and drum patterns. The 83-year-old Danish composer has described an "inspiration of unity" behind his entire catalogue, of which five works were heard Thursday evening as performed by the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble. During this concert, the first in a series of three presented at the Scandinavia House, the audience could observe the evolution of Mr Nørgård's sound from his development of the Infinity Series in the 1970s, to his influence by the outsider art of Adolf Wölfli during the 1980s, to the more recent inspiration of Hawaiian chant. The microscopically-varying spirals of his Infinity Series, layered with the American poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman, therefore coalesced with twangs of California and Hawaii. Perhaps most striking were the dense, unexpected textures of Mr Nørgård's music. His sound world weaves together accordion and guitar lines as fluidly as it weaves together those of Baroque recorders and viola da gamba.

Per Nørgård © Manu Theobald
Per Nørgård
© Manu Theobald

In Arcana, a trio composed in 1970, the opening arpeggiating Infinity Series – repetitious yet varying ad infinitum – was heard from William Schimmel on accordion, William Anderson on guitar and Britton Matthews on percussion. These spiraling phrases were broken up when all three musicians blew on kazoos, revving tiny engines of sound. The tightness of the beginning cascaded into quieter, denser textures and eventually unraveled into a trajectory that was meandering yet peculiar. The lines were more elaborate and involved than a typical minimalist phase or process piece, with instruments dropping in and out and shifting course abruptly. Following in a similar vein, the 1973 trio Spell opened with the pianissimo repetition of pointillistic notes and modules. The resulting tapestry of sound, while still Reichian in texture, was harmonically more piquant as single notes gradually bled into unexpected arpeggios and phrases. A long theme heard from the clarinet was echoed by the cello before a dissolution into jagged clips of sound from all, a brief ragged waltz. The musicians struggled to keep up with their own sounds, until the final repeated modules petered off into a closing exhalation.

Plutonium Ode, the 1984 work dating from Mr Nørgård's "outsider art" phase, consisted of fragments of the Ginsberg poem of the same title. The piece was sung by Sarah Joy Miller (known for her Anna Nicole at BAM in 2013) and accompanied by cellist Paul Wiancko. Ginsberg's reference to "Father Whitman" laid the groundwork nicely for the Whitman-themed second half of the program. Yet the harsh, directionless sounds felt out of place and disjointed. Ms Miller's expertly portentous spoken monologue gave way to words that were sung operatically over harsh pizzicati from the cello, rough and rapid twangs that grew louder and gave way to sharply bowed notes. These sounds were theatrical rather than mathematical, and while beautifully and dramatically performed, they could not hold my focus. Perhaps after the tightly wound spirals of the Infinity Series, I could not follow the loose threads of Mr Nørgård's more chaotic language.

The second half began with the 2008 work Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, the title of which was taken from Whitman's Seadrift. This more recent work was smooth yet dissonant, with legato slurs melting the lines into crunchy harmonies. Rather than the abrupt transitions heard earlier, Mr Nørgård's language here was more fluid. As a blurrily pedaled melody was dripped out quietly on the piano, cello and violin conversed fluently; as the clarinetist whistled a piercing note, the piano echoed the same note at the upper end of the keyboard. The third movement began with the four instrumentalists inhaling and sighing together in unison before diving into a disjointed – and sonically rewarding – finale.

The performance wrapped up with a return to Mr Nørgård's 1970s infinite loops, as well as a return to the much earlier sound world of the Baroque era, with Seadrift of 1978. The Whitman poem mentioned above was here heard through the truly incredible voice of soprano Sarah Moyer. Mr Nørgård's dizzying spokes and spirals of sound were here presented with this sparse yet fascinating texture. Waddling phrases from the recorder were joined by low hums and volleyed frenzies of notes from the others. In an intricate passage, Ms Moyer exchanged notes with Daphna Mor (recorder) in a dizzying hocket; Ms Mor subsequently drew the work to a close with a series of startling kazooing sounds, which now sounded more like a broken party popper than a musical instrument. The encore, Mr Nørgård's arrangement of Schubert's Nacht und Träume, was a further exploration of his multi-faceted musical technique, which itself seems to unfold in slightly varying yet unending spirals much in the vein of his Infinity Series.