Friday, March 19, 2010

Michael Pisaro - July Mountain (engraved glass)

Not that it's so important, but I don't think I've ever experienced 21 minutes passing so quickly. The first several times I listened to "July Mountain", I was afraid there had been a disc defect and it had somehow skipped ahead; it felt as though about ten minutes had elapsed.

That's only one amazing aspect of this recording. Another rather subsidiary one comes into play when one sees the score and realizes not only how densely packed and thought through this piece is but how it still manages to feel light and air-permeated.

But these are sideline things next to, simply, how it sounds, which is extraordinary, mysterious, life-abundant. Twenty phased field recordings done in mountain or valley areas mix with ten percussion extracts (performed superbly by Greg Stuart) sourced from specific instrumental orientations covering an enormous range of timbre and pitch, all sequenced in a temporally exact manner (i.e., piano chord entering at 8:00). Again, as fascinating as it is to know this, the great joy is simply in lying back and letting "July Mountain" cascade over you. The sounds begin quietly with birds, wind, the low throb of an airplane engine, etc. and gradually mass into an onrush that remains strangely delicate for all its force. The piano, children's voices, sine tones, light metallic clatter and much more begin to funnel into an ever widening vortex that absolutely sucks you in while always providing oxygen. It's as if you're sitting on the mountain or in that valley having had your ears hyper-sensitized so they were picking up every sound within miles and, more, making a kind of sense of them, collating them into a semi-recognizable pattern.

A great, great work, one I can easily see listening to for many years to come.

Anne Guthrie - Standing Sitting (engraved glass)
As beautiful as Pisaro's release is, please don't ignore this lovely one from Anne Guthrie. I'd only known her work in association with musicians like Richard Kamerman and Billy Gomberg where she generally wields a french horn. Here we have three processed field recordings, one recorded in DIA Beacon, the other two from a train station and aboard a train. Not so dissimilarly from work Pisaro has done before, Guthrie interweaves sine tones (or something akin; I'm not quite sure) with the recordings, creating a dreamy between-world of the real and the shimmering. The DIA piece resonates with the kind of disembodied, space-molded voices and sounds one encounters in large interiors like those found in that converted factory, here underlain with hums that, in this case, recall the sound installation on DIA's rooftop by the late Max Neuhaus.

The sine tones seem to have been applied intuitively, Guthrie allowing the field recordings to sit by themselves for a while, to establish a presence (very beautifully), then to be accompanied. It's difficult to describe why this works so well except to accede to the composer's ear and the choices she makes, but the impression, again, is of being hyper-aware, of a space and, too, picking up subliminal frequencies normally outside the range of hearing, these tones enhancing the overt sounds and imparting an air of wonder.

Very impressive work.

engraved glass


Richard Pinnell said...

I listened to July Mountain for the first time last night with Patrick Farmer and Daniel Jones sat in Dan's front room. It sounded great, though it was hard to listen closely in company. Interestingly though Patrick and I and one point both thought it had been playing much longer than a 3" should, only for Daniel to tell us that only sixteen minutes had passed....

simon reynell said...

I've also heard both these for the first time today, and like them very much.
I think I love Michael Pisaro's works most when they show some grittiness, and July Mountain certainly does that. Very impressive.
But Ann Guthrie's disc is very strong too in a different, far quieter and more meditative way. Often field recordings don't quite do it for me, but there's just enough transformation / editing / direction / composition to keep me in there for these 3 pieces.
Both are excellent releases.
Thanks to Jez for making them available.

crow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
crow said...

We totally agree on Pisaro's piece, Brian: