Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two more entirely deep and wonderful recordings from Michael Pisaro

Michael Pisaro - close constellations and a drum on the ground (Gravity Wave)

Scored for guitar and crotales (bowed) with sine tones and drum samples, performed by Barry Chabala and Greg Stuart (I take it Pisaro himself administers the sines and samples during assemblage of the disc?). It's in eight sections of five minutes each, alternating between guitar and crotales (with accompaniment), the number of held tones progressing 1-1-2-3-4-5-6-7. These notes form long melodic lines which is part of the crux of this work and the following one and marks a path that Pisaro seems to have embarked on the past couple of years, a more overtly intuitive and, one might even say, within the limits he's set, gestural sensibility. If that's the case (I'm not sure if he'd dispute it), it arises from years of more severe discipline and is enormously enhanced by that earlier, more astringent rigor.

In this case, the structure, simple enough in its large-scale form, is perhaps more felt than directly perceived, minimal as its additive nature is and stretched out over significant time periods. But I do think that feeling resonates and provides a kind of webbing for the shorter elements. Additionally, the placement of tones by each performer, in each section, varies somewhat, from occupying an entire duration, to only beginning at a certain point for a specified number of seconds within a duration, to choosing where inside a given duration to place one's portion of sound, so that within this structure, there's an amount of movement, of differentiation that, again, is less immediately apparent than felt. The increase of notes over the course of the piece also provides a necessary "hastening" of the lines though, again, as it spans relatively long lengths, one is not likely to notice this unless one is purposely looking. (These time brackets go from 240 seconds to 150, 120, 40 within 150, within 75, within 40, within sections of 40, 40, 35, 55, 30 and 60, and finally, unison crotales and sine tones of lengths 30, 30, 40, 45, 30, 20 and 40.)

How does it all sound then? Well, rather marvelous. The two basic sounds, e-bowed guitar and bowed crotales, are akin but differentiated enough, but not so dissimilar from the sine tones weaving in and out. It's the percussive samples, though, that provide the off-and-on "bed" for the ears, a kind of cushion in which to sink. These samples, however they were generated, give the appearance of muffled, blurred field recordings in fact, like fuzzy traffic or the rumbles of industrial facilities. But more interestingly, to me, is the fact that, by using a number of longish segments with discernible if faint variation within, as opposed to an even longer but more steady-state work, Pisaro forces you to really try to perceive the pieces in relation to the whole and to each other. By noticeably dividing the work, he manages to increase the perceived scale. You have to remember a good deal to get a feel of the more or less additive sequences that are in play, but it's a very complex thing as those structural aspects are "pointing" one way while other elements, like the dynamics, pitches, etc. point in opposite or perpendicular directions. It's very much like certain fundamentals of nature, if I may be so bold: a general thrust along one line, perhaps largely hidden, while all manner of contrary activity takes place "above", even as it's carried along by the substratum.

Really, there's a ton to gnaw on here and I feel I've only scratched the surface. This will doubtless repay many hours or re-listening. The damn thing just sounds so good, as well.

A great, great piece.

Michael Pisaro - asleep, street, pipes, tones (Gravity Wave)

Oh yeah, and then there's another one....

I heard this performed at Experimental Intermedia a bit over a year ago, loved it absolutely but, as with the prior work, there's only so much you can soak in on a single hearing. Yet another composition of vast depth, richness and stunning beauty.

Again, looking at the score helps (thanks to Barry for sending same my way!) as there's a certain visual component--I'm not sure it's intentional but I would wager a guess so--that really adds a dimension to the listening experience. In "close constellations...", it was additive in nature; here there's some of that as well, but it also involves mirror images and a kind of poetic balance. There are 19 sections, alternating ones of tape, sine and other sounds with ones of bass clarinet (Katie Porter) and guitar (Chabala), with some overlap, each lasting 3'20". Pisaro weaves several relatively simple elements in astoundingly gorgeous fashion. One is length and complexity of phrase, beginning with four identical, whole notes separated by empty bars in the first section by the bass clarinet, followed by four notes, a step lower but identical otherwise, by the e-bowed guitar; two parallel lines. In section II, the bass clarinet walks six series of two-note steps, the guitar accompanying between portions 4 & 5, and then in unison with 6, extending a measure beyond. Looking at the score, you begin to ascertain the visual elegance in play: pared down but almost playful and certainly aware of cadence and proportion.

In general, the relationships grow more complicated but a) not extremely so and b) not directly either, not only by addition. It's a properly slow progress; one has the impression that if the piece were over six hours long rather than just over one, it would indeed have become far more complex but that within that gradually growing complexity, there would always be an occasional ebbing back toward an amount of simplification, the whole pulsing and churning, but on a glacial scale.

And that absolutely lovely interplay of sequencing is only one of four or five (at least) balls being juggled. Pisaro plays off other aspects of dynamics, timbre, texture and, yes, melody. The longest of these may be only four notes but, in context, they hit with full force. It's been a fascinating development (though I'm only going by recordings and the live performances I've happened to attend so I may well be getting an incomplete picture), all the severe, beautiful restrictions he'd imposed on earlier work beginning to blossom into openly lush and even (relatively) voluptuous areas. The ultra-rich organ-y electronic tones that begin filtering into the piece some 15 minutes in, not to mention the all-out pipe-organ eruptions later on are wonderful, exhilarating and, admittedly, surprising to hear.

All of these, crucial as they are, are just facets of the work, however, and it's the entirety of the piece that, over many, many listens, is truly overwhelming. It manages to avoid being heard as episodic even as one's mind registers that all these scenes are transpiring. The structure somehow serves to cohere the sequences in a way I find virtually impossible to describe but can clearly comprehend--the mark of deeply true poetry. And in the end, that's this work--a profound, elusive piece of poetry, some of the richest music I've heard not only from Pisaro but anywhere, in a long, long time. Congratulations to all involved.

Gravity Wave

Distributed by erstdist


simon reynell said...

Good review. I agreed with your reservations about the disc with Sugimoto, but your enthusiasm for these comes as a useful reminder to get round to ordering them. Have just done so & can't wait.

Manuel Morasse said...

Great review, once again.

Is there anyway one can access the charts of both oeuvres.

Brian Olewnick said...

I imagine either Michael or Barry would be happy to send you the scores.