Vinyl Reviews

Michael Pisaro, Miguel Prado – White Metal

May 3, 2014

Senufo Editions

White Metal is a new composition written by Michael Pisaro and performed by the Waldelweiser composer along with the Spanish musician Miguel Prado. The piece is the second in a series of works titled the Grey Series, which are written with the intention of being realised using noteless, white noise oriented textures, and is put together in this instance as a cross-ocean filesharing exercise carefully choreographed via Pisaro’s very precise score, which is helpfully included as the artwork for the album. The first thing that strikes you about the work, even before you drop the needle on the record, is the way that Pisaro has notated the work. Split into four movements, with each apparently following the basic structure of Mozart’s 40th Symphony (a piece of music I have always, admittedly irrationally disliked) Pisaro allows the two musicians to choose their own “noises” but gives the guidance that they should essentially be “white(-sh) noise, intense or dense enough so that at first differentiation between noises or layers might be nearly impossible”. He then provides precise timings for each movement, and then often very precise detail on how each sound may be arranged, some of the characteristics that should be considered, and the ways they should be mixed. In fact, beyond the choice of actual sound used, Pisaro pretty much ties down the shape and dynamic of the work. His score reminds me a lot of a styling sheet used to layout a website such as the one you are reading now. Any content may be added to these pages, but where things sit, how big they are, how they combine with other elements and how much white space surrounds it all are dictated in advance. I suspect that Pisaro’s instructions, with comments such as “An erratic noise that runs intermittently throughout the movement” or “Eight blasts of noise (each lasting 17″, but each different) at the flowing times:….” may well be derived directly from the different elements that come and go in the Mozart symphony, though I am makingĀ an as yet unconfirmed assumption here. if this is the case, and Pisaro has in fact made a very loose, very rough xerox copy of Mozart’s music by shaping white noise sounds into some sort of very faint shadow of that famous work then this is very clever composition indeed. For this realisation of the work the duo also apparently tried to feed some of the essence of the Black Metal genre into the music, so mixing it with white noise to give the album its title. Precisely how successfully this particular element has been achieved is admittedly a little lost on me. I hear nothing obvious in amongst it all to invoke black metal directly, but the use of noise to create both loud and very quiet music, both of which are present here, works as a reflection of the different ways white noise can be put to use, be it in black metal’s volume or the reticence of Wandelweiser’s early silences.

Irrespective of how it was composed however, White Metal is a thoroughly engaging listen. The four movements are separated by three lengthy silences, the middle of which is dictated by how long it may take you to turn the record over, but the others both lasting a good three or four minutes each. Between these interludes sit layers of steadily shifting, dense yet never entirely opaque noise. Much of these sounds are abstract- static fields, quivering synth-like wobbles and fierce, electric fizzing, but there also a fair number of field recordings, some of which remain unidentifiably alien, but running water makes its inevitable presence heard, and the third movement, which on the whole feels the loudest and most dense here layers multiple passing aircraft with at one point an almost kitschy use of what sounds like a NASA styled countdown. Given that on the whole the music is made up of largely textural, non-melodic sounds, and that each element was chosen in isolation to the others around it, there is a real sense of engaging musicality to the piece that betrays Pisaro’s ability to picture music in the abstract, place elements carefully together before even knowing how they will sound, and form a work that is dynamically and narratively interesting by merely typing words onto paper and letting chance do the final work. White Metal is a fascinating affair, a triumph of the composer’s ability to imagine music into being, but also the result of some interesting choices of sound from both musicians, never staying entirely safe, but still finding elements that when combined fit together without sounding out of place. Excellent work, both in conception and execution.

Comments (4)

  • lawrencedunn

    May 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Sounds/looks very interesting. Be good to see a more complete picture of that score. Also be nice to know quite why you so much dislike Mozart 40 (after all, it’s no fault of his that it acquired its later ubiquity!).

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Bigger but blurry shot of one half of the score here Lawrence:

    As I said above, my reasons for disliking the Mozart are certainly irrational. I just don’t like it the tune. It irritates me! Can’t really explain why, but it really is that simple…

  • michael pisaro

    May 4, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Richard, thanks for the excellent review. I first heard the Mozart at too early an age to be critical of it. But the selection was based less on a personal connection than my supposition that with its extreme chromaticism relative to its time, it must have sounded like “noise” to most of the people who heard it. That and the fact that, as you point out, it was amusing to think about structuring indeterminate noise according to a rigid formal pattern (partially based on the symphony).

    Lawrence, if you want a PDF of the score, just PM me and I send it to you.

    • michael pisaro

      May 4, 2014 at 1:10 am

      I _will_ send it to you (I mean). (I guess you can’t edit comments?)

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