Thursday, August 27, 2020


Pisaura - Asteraceae (Sedimental)

Pisaura is a trio consisting of Michael Pisaro-Liu and the members of the duo Zizia, Amber Wolfe and Jarrod Fowler. Their first recording is a set of 24 pieces, lasting 72 minutes, based on a quite complicated system designed, as I understand it, to generate patterns and associations based on the interaction of two very different mapping methodologies that may produce serendipitous results. One is a geographic map of the greater Los Angeles area. The other is a celestial map derived from the astrological charts of the three individuals involved. In fairness, I should pause to mention that I have exceedingly short patience with all matters astrological. I don't have any particular problem with it being used as a pattern/idea-generating process any more than I do with, say, Cage's famous use of the I Ching but, as with that activity, chance results are as far as I go, much akin to rolling dice. Pisaura overlays more meaning, and much complexity, as described in limited detail below. The reader can judge for themselves how much credence to ascribe to the system's responsibility for the results above and beyond the quotidian. 

The maps were overlaid with a couple of initial corresponding points: the Mt. Wilson Observatory with Saturn and the California Institute of the Arts with Chiron (the centaur). Other astrological symbols would thus match up, whether by chance or mystical design, with various geographical locations. Members of the trio would venture to these sites, at times also determined by planetary rhythms and alignment, to make field recordings, which were brought back and reworked into the pieces heard here. There's more to it than that, but this gives you a general idea.

I have no prior experience with Zizia as such and had only heard, to the best of my recollection, one release by Fowler ('Rhythmics', Heresy Records, 2012) but I know Pisaro-Liu's work to a pretty thorough degree. Despite what one might think of his having in recent years developed (in recordings, at least) a fuller, richer sonic palette, I was immediately struck by the density of sound on this release.  The initial track, for instance, has several layers ranging from a fluctuating warble to scratchy rustlings to an element that begins as a sine-y sliver (similar to those heard on Pisaro's classic 'Transparent City' series) and expands to a harmonium-like fulness--and more than that besides. The pieces are something like brief sonic videos with shifting filters and focuses; they're ambient but active, even hyperactive. There's sometimes a tinge of or, maybe, an oblique reference to the IRCAM school of electro-acoustic music but without, happily, that sheen of artificiality often encountered there. If I have a complaint, it might be that as whole, there's a similar intensity in play over the twenty-four pieces. They're different, of course (here a snatch of distant talk, there blurred and rumbling machinery, crickets, spiders--perhaps the asteraceae indicated in the album's title--rain or wind, much more) but possess something of the same feel. Using the photo-filter analogy again, it's a little like a series of wonderful pictures with a similar grain, saturation, etc. This makes for a slightly disquieting effect when listening through the album, a same-but-not-same sensation. Sometimes I don't mind this, other times I do. 

But there's something unique in play as well, a set that's subtly different from what you're likely to have experienced before, an intriguing lamina of uneasiness. I hope Pisaura continues as a working unit--eager to hear what comes next.