CD Reviews

Friday 7th October

October 7, 2011

After a long, stressful but ultimately quite successful day at work I staggered home tired this evening and promptly fell asleep to tonight’s CD, which is fortunately one I have listened to quite a lot over recent weeks, so with it playing again now I can happily still write about it. In fact, I deliberately put some time between listening to Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart’s Hearing Metal 3 release a number of times and writing about it today. While I like this album a great deal, I found myself, soon after writing about its twin release, Hearing Metal 2, to have nothing to say about Pisaro’s composition that I hadn’t said a number of times before. While these CDs are fine works, they are also not a million miles in style and impact from the duo’s other recent albums. I decided to put a couple of weeks in between reviews to see if I can find anything new to say with, if you like, fresh ears brought to bear on them.

The trouble is, having listened intently after waking from my doze, I struggle still to think of anything new. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There have been very few close collaborations in music that have had the same impact as the Pisaro/Stuart pairing have over recent years. Hearing Metal 3 is another in their series of pieces that are inspired by the sculpture of Constantin Brancusi, this one taking the 1911 work Prometheus as its inspiration. How the sculpture, a human head, placed on its side, with only the barest of features picked out relates to this music is hard to tell. The work is formed from recordings made by Stuart of sixteen suspended cymbals, grains and surfaces, mixed together with sine tones added by Pisaro. It seems to have at least two definite sections to it, opening with a series of glowing metal and sine wave swells that sound entirely of the Pisaro/Stuart oeuvre, rising and falling but never completely ceasing, blossoming out into an extended crescendo that is overlaid by rougher, grittier, toneless sounds that almost seem to wrestle with the softer colours. If you listen without full concentration, as I did when so tired earlier this evening, the music’s impact will be cocoon-like, lifting you slowly, swaying you about very very gradually, indeed potentially helping you to sleep. Listening carefully though is like putting a microscope to a beach full of sand- the rolling dunes suddenly become a mass of tiny elements of many colours, and the smaller parts reveal jagged edges that are lost when viewed from a wider angle.

A little before the half hour mark, two thirds of the way through the composition, Stuart’s sounds gradually evolve away from bowed, tonal sounds and just the rush of small textural elements remains, as if the wrestling match has been won. At thirty-two minutes the sine waves drop away and so then does everything, the music subsiding into a brief few seconds of silence before a further stretch of quiet folds of small sounds come and go, percussive rather than bowed sounds, nearly slipping in to silence several times, with just the thinnest of sine waves here and there. This part of the disc is wonderful. While the huge rolling waves of the opening half an hour are beautiful, bold strokes, the gestures here are more subtle, and as so fewer sounds are used at one time, they each feel important, and the music somehow takes on a fragility that was not there within the gusto of the earlier passages. Describing it as the calm after a storm is probably a little facile but there is as much beauty in the restraint shown in these small sections as in the bolder strokes of the opening sections. With just a few minutes remaining in the composition the sine tones reappear- thicker, heavier, making their mark against the grey patter. This closing sequence is done with great control. It would seem obvious for the music to swell up again and close out with one big finale but instead we have these few warm injections of tone providing a point of difference, a signature to close the work, and then it just slips away. Its to the great credit of Pisaro’s composition that the obvious doesn’t happen.

The compositions of Michael Pisaro, at least in this period of his compositional development always seem to remind of me of the most simple, usually natural processes and elements. This disc, despite its sculptural influences again summons up images of waves, of wind, of rolling hills, sand dunes, huge constructions made from tiny particles. Hearing Metal 3 is no different, and so its hard for me to find new words. How this release compares to other recent works is hard to tell, and probably any comparison is pointless anyway, but the feeling of simplicity here, the pairing down of elements places this one above Hearing Metal 2 for me.  The feeling of just basic elements being pulled together to create something bold is apparent- something emotionally pulling, dramatic in its grandeur but with only the minimal amount of fuss. Perhaps here is the link to Brancusi’s head- the bold statement with a stark emotional impact and yet with only the most crucial features picked out on its surface. This is a beautiful CD, perhaps pulling to a close this particular round of works by Pisaro and Stuart before setting course on something new? Very very beautiful.

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