CD Reviews

Sunday 7th November

November 8, 2010

gw001 front cover 100dpiSo today was about as relaxing a day as can be achieved by someone that bothered to get out of bed. Although I’m off of work for a few days now the forthcoming week will actually be quite busy and full of travel, so I’m taking every opportunity to do very little.  Still, I managed to read an entire book (Susan Tome’s very good “Out of Silence”) and get some work done updating websites, plus I think I have finally found a working solution to get the Concert Calendar back up and running here. Still fine tuning it but it should be there this time tomorrow. It occurred to me again a few days back that there really is nowhere online that collects together listings for concerts in this country. Facebook does its bit, but a single reliable online resource would be very useful. I don’t think the gig calendar here can serve that purpose entirely at present, but if it proves successful this time round maybe a dedicated listings site of its own could work in the future?

Anyway… I also listened to some music today, and some very good music indeed. When Michael Pisaro announced the launch of his new Gravity Wave label, a vehicle designed to present his own music, it didn’t surprise me to hear that Ricefall(2) was to be the first release on the new imprint. I first heard this recording a couple of years ago, soon after I had first heard A Wave and Waves, the release that came out on Cathnor. Both recordings see Pisaro working closely with his frequent collaborator Greg Stuart, and in many ways they have things in common. But while I personally much prefer A Wave and Waves, the Ricefall recording is a lovely, and quite remarkable piece of work, and I am very pleased it now has an official home.

The problem for me now is wondering what on earth to say about this recording other than pointing out its beauty and complexity. Inevitably I find myself wanting to compare it to other Pisaro pieces, which is a little unfair and somewhat pointless, but comparing it to the work of anyone else is equally fruitless. Is anyone else making music quite like this right now? If so is it even half as inspirational?

Ricefall(2) is, as the title suggests, the second work Pisaro wrote in this vein. The first involved sixteen “events” created by grains of rice poured onto different surfaces. For this new version, the music’s realiser, the percussionist Greg Stuart asked Pisaro to write a new version with four times as much happening, so this CD captures sixty-four rice falling events spread across the seventy-two minute CD, split into four sections separated by three two minute silences. Each event has been painstakingly actioned and recorded by Stuart, who has then layered the sixty-four recordings together to make the piece of music we hear.

So we hear thousands of tiny pinpricks of percussive sound, all quite similar but then very slightly different, sometimes sparsely scattered, sometimes rushing together in storms of activity so finely detailed no ear could follow them. Pisaro writes in the liner notes that his original intentions for the work were to create music that reflected a “landscape in the rain” and the one obvious and unavoidable comparison that this music suggests is rainfall, from the light spitting in places to the torrential storms elsewhere. Although Brian, in his review of this album wrote that he struggled to make sense of the work when looking at it from a wider, structural viewpoint, it is the rainfall of scattered, uncertain showers that the music reminds me of a lot. Perhaps you have to be British to appreciate this fully, but the patterns that flow through Ricefall(2) are just like those heard at my window most days, particularly when I am trying to get washing dried on the line. When the “rainfall” dissipates into the lightest of sprinkling, so it surprises us by suddenly blooming into a heavy shower again, stopping suddenly for a couple of minute’s deceptive sunshine before soaking you again as you try and peg the washing out on the line. As humorous as this analogy might seem, this is exactly how Ricefall(2) feels to me, a kind of uncertain, perhaps even uncomposed unevenness flows through it all. While A Wave and waves has a very clearly defined set of structures, Ricefall(2) feels erratic, just as rainfall might in real life.

I could go on for hours about Stuart’s remarkable skill, patience and craftsmanship on display in the creation of this work. His understanding of Pisaro’s visions, and the sheer delicacy of his interpretations of them make for a remarkable partnership. The most remarkable aspect of the music’s construction is just how so many separate recordings can be pulled together not only seamlessly, but in a manner that then forms a collected sound that feels thoroughly naturalistic. Listening closely this evening, as I have often over the past couple of years, my mind seemed to forget this was rice it was hearing, and it just felt like I was listening to the sound of rainfall, scattering its way across many different surfaces, as it does every day. That this effect can be present in music constructed in this manner is testament to the brilliance of its creators. Ricefall(2) is utterly beautiful and thoroughly original, yet another fine example of this pair of creative individual’s work together that shouldn’t be missed by anyone keeping abreast of modern composition. If you asked me to named five Pisaro albums to hear before any other, this one might not make the cut, not because it isn’t a beautifully formed, wonderfully realised piece of work, but because the rapidly growing catalogue of possible great music to choose from is stunning. A wonderful start to the new label all the same, all wrapped up in suitably nice and somewhat familiar packaging. Gravity Wave.

Comments (3)

  • Brian Olewnick

    November 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Nice analogy, Richard, to the scattered rainfalls. I think we have things of that nature on occasion over here as well…Where were you with this allusion a couple of weeks back to help me through my struggle?!?!

  • lutins

    November 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Is anyone else making music quite like this right now? If so is it even half as inspirational?

    Some of James Saunders’ music explores some similar territory, especially some recent works like 50 surfaces (that may not be the exact title…).

  • Barry Chabala

    November 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    great review here richard. i think this is an amazing piece.

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