CD Reviews

Tuesday 20th September

September 21, 2011

So a new CD from Michael Pisaro, the fifth release of his own music on his Gravity Wave label, a disc named Hearing Metal 2, the follow up to the first disc in this series, issued in 2009 by Wandelweiser, and released here alongside the third. As with all the releases in the Hearing Metal series this album is inspired by the work of Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor, and in particular this one references a work named La table du silence, an outdoor stone sculpture made up a central round “table” encircled by twelve smaller round stone “chairs” The work is part of a triptych to be found in Romania that features some of his largest, and boldest work. I am unsure as to exactly how Pisaro’s work here, a sixty-two minute long piece created with frequent collaborator Greg Stuart, is inspired by this work by Brancusi, but certainly La table du silence is considered one of Brancusi’s biggest statements, made when at the height of his creative powers. While I would like to hope that Michael Pisaro has many years of increasingly great creativity ahead of him, he certainly has reached a period lately in which is works seem to all be very big, grand statements- CD length or longer and mostly full of bold, dramatic gesture. Although shorter works continue to be written, the focus of Pisaro’s attention over the past few years has been on these large scale works that are usually made up from piling together many much smaller sounds. How Pisaro’s work will be viewed in years to come remains to be seen, but I’d like to think that the recent series of releases may be considered to be his ‘symphonic’ period. If his earlier, more brief pieces, such as the Harmony Series and the Mind is Moving works could perhaps be considered to be chamber works, the longer, bigger recent albums feel like compositions for an orchestra of pre-recorded elements. This suits me fine, as I love this area of Pisaro’s work a great deal, but it should be noted that with each consecutive release the element of surprise is lessened a bit, and a signature style can be heard flowing through the recordings. The two new Hearing Metal releases are both great (though I lean a little more towards the third in the series) but they do sound very much like we might expect them to, perhaps because those that follow this area of music closely have all been a little saturated with Pisaro’s work of late, and because he works with Stuart on them both, and the percussionist’s sound is as familiar as the composer’s. None of this is particularly a criticism from me as I could listen to this stuff all year, but if the inevitable Pisaro backlash is to arrive at any time soon I would imagine that the line “it all sounds similar” will appear often.

I haven’t seen the score to Hearing Metal 2, so its fact structure may well allude me a little, but it opens with a first movement consisting of a series of swelling and contracting sections that evolve out of and disappear back into complete silence for a few seconds, each one primarily a combination of Stuart’s layered metal percussion and field recordings, with sine tones, guitar, radio and samples of a church organ added by Pisaro as he pulled it all together. The field recordings are actually of a somewhat predictable nature- a lot of crashing waves and rushing water along birdsong and other familiar sounding elements. From beneath and within these strongly featured recordings rise the sine waves, the barely distinguishable use of poorly tuned radio, and the massed detail of the percussion, all coming together to form the rising and falling crescendoes of energy that can be heard through the first half of the album. Now many albums that feature waves, hydrophonic recordings and twittering birds in this way would get short shrift from me for their use of unoriginal sounds, but while the collection of elements here is indeed somewhat predictable, the quality of the recordings used, and more specifically the way Pisaro blends them into the percussion parts with such skilled craftsmanship, so everything merges into one grand swell of energy, earns him a reprieve. The music all feels big and bold and full of drama then, almost religious in its impact, though this feeling could be just a reflection of the use of church organ sounds throughout.

There are three key sections here, each separated by a trademark minute of silence to make clear the difference between these three parts and the smaller sections that make up the opening “movement”, which are separated by only a few seconds of silence. The second “movement” is the longest here at some forty-one minutes, and its quite a statement- a hefty, dense layering of Stuart’s many bowed and chiming metal parts all layered so tightly that, while fit is clear that lots of little things are happening, its impossible to pull them apart. At this point I wonder if this huge heavy centrepiece might refer to the large stone table in Brancusi’s sculpture, and on every listen I curse myself for not counting the smaller swells in the opening section (maybe there were twelve, one for each ‘chair’?) but this just isn’t an easy piece of music to break down structurally. This central section highlights to me how Pisaro’s music has moved away from the aesthetics that made his earlier music such a perfect fit tot he Wandelweiser label. If anything this part of the work resembles the attributes of noise music rather than near silence- while the volume levels never rise that high the central table here feels thick, solid, packed full of sounds so as to build a dense drone.

My theory that this large solid section is the table to the first section’s chairs is thrown out of the window somewhat by the third section of the album, which lasts just two and a half minutes and sees the return of the birdsong from earlier, recorded somewhere close to a city, the deep roar of urban life filling the space with a distant murkiness that the birds pinprick in the foreground. From what I know of Brancusi’s table of silence, its hard to see how this section fits in. However it all relates back to the great Romanian artist however this is another work from Pisaro and Stuart that is immaculately produced, painstakingly recorded and pieced together, and another example from them of how a minutely detailed written vision of music can be then brought to life by just two people with a lot of patience, skill and above all a shared sense of vision and understanding. It feels a little crass to state that if you have liked Michael Pisaro’s other recent releases then you will like this one as well, but while this is true, because in many ways the sounds used here do feel familiar, the way they are structured is quite different, and you know, even if this does sound just like yet another big and bold Pisaro/Stuart collaboration, that really isn’t anything but a great thing in my opinion.


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