CD Reviews

Michael Pisaro realised by Joe Panzner, Greg Stuart – White Metal

November 26, 2014


This is the second realisation of Michael Pisaro’s White Metal to be released this year, and the second I have reviewed here. It is inevitable I guess that on the rare occasions that a contemporary score has two realisations released in a short period of time that reviewers like myself will draw comparisons between the two. How much this really helps anything is difficult to say, but the nature and parameters of a score like this one of Pisaro’s become more apparent when two really quite different versions are compared.  Without writing the same review again, the beauty of Pisaro’s score is how it tightly defines timings, arrangement and even the loose definition of the sounds involved, but stops short of any kind of precise notation. So having the two versions of the piece to hand helps define Pisaro’s role in the music more clearly as while the structure and narrative of the piece is similar across both versions, this new version by Greg Stuart and Joe Panzner is very different to the previous recording by the composer alongside Miguel Prado. Pisaro requests that “white noise” sounds are used. He even dictates their ferocity, texture and volume to some degree, but the flexibility that the term “white noise” provides means that we are dealing with two very different palettes of sound dropped into what is pretty much a predetermined template. While the older realisation mixed field recordings with less identifiable sounds the Stuart/Panzner effort blends a stream of harsh, often impenetrably aggressive mix of shortwave-like electronics and digitally formed scrawl.

Pisaro’s impact is entirely recognisable across the two versions. Inspired by Mozart’s 40th Symphony, or rather the way its at one time experimental sound must have sounded like noise to those that first heard it, the loosely defined, but never acutely curated white noises are then then split into four ‘movements’, within each of which there are definite peaks, lulls, and sudden chasms. The movements are each separated by long spaces which at first feel like silences as they fall between the torrents of digital noise either side, but closer attention reveals that recordings of different room tones fill in these spaces, adding a beautiful sense of very subtle colouring between the acutely positioned chaos. These patches of near but not quite silent greyness are prescribed by Pisaro in his score, and it is this degree of attention to detail, this vision of how the end product could come out sounding that marks Pisaro down as one of the most interesting composers alive today.

Interestingly though, one starts to wonder how much of this work is the product of the musicians’ creativity and how much the composer? Could the “template” for White Metal be made available for some kind of sequencing program in which musicians just drop suitable sounds into predetermined windows and press play? Perhaps this in fact is what the score already is- merely a series of frames into which content is poured, their placement already determined. So if, as is the case here, I prefer the Pisaro / Prado realisation of White Metal to this new release who might care? Do the musicians merely shrug and say they had no input into where everything landed or does the composer walk away saying its not his fault if the recipe was made using inferior ingredients? I jest of course. Nothing is that simple and the relationship between composer and musicians is a far more complex affair, but one does wonder as this kind of only loosely defined composition becomes more prevalent whether such questions could come into play in the future.

Apart from undoubtably being the noisiest recording of a Wandelweiser published score yet, this realisation of White Metal is probably also the ugliest, but deliberately so. The sounds Stuart and Panzner use are those that often irritate us in everyday life- harshly burning static and piercing fields of blaring digital scribble layered over one another. Pisaro calls for “noises” in his score, and demands that they are layered in an “intense or dense enough” manner that “differentiation between them might be nearly impossible”. The music here then isn’t an easy ride. This isn’t a piece to lull you gently to sleep and in Stuart and Panzner’s hands it isn’t meant to be. Its actually a really well made, finely constructed and enjoyable listen, but for me the Pisaro / Prado realisation allows the listener a little more breathing space and more variety in the material put to work. Its horses for courses though, and both versions are the work of exceptional minds. The one thing that is definitely a positive to me however is that the two versions didn’t come out sounding the same.

Released on Makam, a new imprint of the always excellently presented Dromos label.

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