As a symbolic reenactment of the Via Dolorosa – Christ´s tortuous route to the cross and his “passion, death, resurrection and glorification,” according to Catholic catechism – stations of the cross likely began to appear throughout Christendom in the fifteenth century. As ritual performance art for the faithful without priestly interdiction, the stations demand active physical and mental engagement from participants – prayer, reflection, walking to the next station.
In composing Stations of the Cross, British composer and pianist Simon Vincent was inspired equally by his own visit to Jerusalem in 2015 and the installation Forest Stations by William Fairbank, displayed in Lincoln Cathedral and featured on the cover of this release. Prologued by an earlier piece, “Meditations on Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane”, which perfectly dovetails with the sixteen newly-written, brief movements of Vincent´s quietly powerful suite, the silence within is as deliberate and essential as the chords, which while agile as jazz are few and far apart, at times separated by absolute prairies of silence. Sometimes Vincent´s fingertips seem to only hover above the keys, brushing over rose petals or pricked by thorns. Sometimes the silence will be broken dramatically, even dissonantly. Regardless, each time there is ample opportunity for contemplation as they tone away.
Inspired by one work of visual art, perhaps Vincent´s Stations of the Cross comport even more resonantly with another, Barnett Newman´s stark, human-size paintings of the same name. For Newman, a non-observant Jew, the stations are not so much a palpable representation of the Paschal account but rather attest to the human condition in general – “Lema sabachtani – why did you forsake me?” – the question without answer, each and every man and woman´s agony, “the agony that is single, constant, unrelenting, [and] willed,” as he wrote in the accompanying catalogue. This fate connects us all, something which Vincent refers to in his liner notes: “It is intended that the work opens up reflection upon and discussion of the image of a sole human figure weighed down with burden, an image which for me raises issues of the relationship of the individual to a society and a state which are not only capable of looking away but also of allowing suffering, themes of truly vital relevance to us today.”
A piece for piano both intellectually open-ended and emotionally stimulating.
Striations consists of a single work, “Distance Piece”, music for an outdoor installation mounted at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, complemented by a looped silent film playing indoors. It is itself part of a body of work Steve Roden calls “Stone´s Throw”, created while processing the passing of his grandmother, herself a sculptor, and a group of unfinished stone carvings she left behind.
While the film “Striations” was being shot with colleague Mary Simpson, the sounds of its making were also recorded. In the editing room, Roden decided to separate the sound from the image – traffic, birdsong, tapping stones, bowed cymbal, words exchanged – and processed these happenstance field recordings within the framework of a low, pensive guitar, “whose notes were determined by a score based on the vowel structure of a text, written by Henry Moore (the sculptor), that my grandmother had taped to her studio wall”.
Spindly, deliberate and elongated, a mantis making its tentative way from twig to twig, “Distance Piece” shudders at the will of the slightest breeze. There is an ongoing whimper, like a sad flute or an abandoned boat nudging a dock, longing to be tethered before it drifts away.
A leafy, delicate thing, and we have a particular responsibility toward delicate things.
“The only political issue that matters is climate change,” according to American writer Michael Tolkin. “Everything else is midrash.” Mikel R. Nieto is a Spanish artist/researcher from Basque country and co-editor of the sound art web portal mediateletipos. With his piece Dark Sound, he attempts to heal the world in a fashion far more oblique than any Talmudic exegesis.
For Dark Sound is a 176-page hardback book containing nearly illegible texts printed in a shade of black just barely this side of pitch, which is the color of the pages, as if it had been dipped in the effluence of the Exxon Valdez. Within are essays and letters in Huao (language of the Huaorani of Ecuador), Basque, Spanish and English. Thus for the average individual the book is unreadable, even if he or she were fluent in one or two of the languages and read the book in strong sunlight, as the author recommends. A shame, really (though probably the point), since it claims to include “Ecopolitik, an introduction as an epilogue” by José Luis Espejo (the one who writes about the secret Hermetic codes of Leonardo da Vinci? Impossible to tell, there´s a million of ´em on Facebook), maps and photos and a bulging archive of research papers, reports, facsimiles and testimonies of the clearly excessive, if not downright genocidal, ravages of the oil industry in Ecuador.
The unreadable word as statement? In the great scheme of things, everything we write is eventually erased. Might as well begin as the universe intends us to finish. Fortunately, there is a black polycarbonate CD affixed to the inside back cover that the disc player has no trouble reading, containing a continuous flow of field recordings made in Huoarani country, contrasting the natural environment and its birdsong, wildlife and weather with the heavy metal clankings and drillings of the oil industry laying waste to the former.
The price of Dark Sound is “set by the crude oil Brent price” on the day of purchase (pretty low on the day of writing, so act fast) and, just to prick your social conscience one last time, Nieto reminds the presumptive consumer that “[b]y buying this book you are contributing to the destruction of the planet”. Well, nobody said saving the world was going to be easy.
As we know, roots reggae is imbued with the spiritual message of Rastafarianism, the Jamaican repatriative faith that adopted some of its theology from Ethiopian Christianity and a plethora of metaphors from Judaism, although the Torah (as well as the New Testament) is seen by believers as partly corrupted. In Rastafarian parlance, Zion is a Utopian vision of freedom and justice located in the land once and forever ruled by Haile Selassie. Still, common cultural reference points engendered an unsurprising affinity between Jewish and Jamaican musicians – a kind of Judeo-Rasta subgenre flourishes in the work of King Django, David Solid Gould and Matisyahu, among others.
Meanwhile, back in that other Zion, Tel Avivian producers Kalbata (Ariel Tagar) and Mixmonster (Uri Wertheim) spent a year sculpting instrumental tracks inspired by King Tubby and early dancehall. Traveling to Kingston, they invited an all-star cast of venerable singers and toasters, all of who came to prominence in the seventies and eighties, to flesh out their bare bones. Congo Beat the Drum is the intriguing result of this new-meets-old, red-green-gold Star of David session.
Following the sweet lover stylings of Puddy Roots and Little John, the leonine nyabinghi of the title track, chanted by digital dancehall star Major Mackerel, is absolutely ferocious. Now that we have your attention, dub poet Mutabaruka calls out the political and clerical elite on “Same Thing Every Day” before ceding the mic to Trinity and Jah Thomas, who are having “Trouble in the Dance”, despite the exemplary, minimalist backing propelling their call-and-response. On “Aim”, Tullo T shakes the pixie dust amiably and ambiently scattered by Kalbata and Mixmonster with a huge smile spreading wider and wider on his face. Finally, Echo Minott and the late Prince Jazzbo get down to brass tacks, the former plaintively pleading the case of the poor man on “Out a Road” and the latter pointing accusing fingers on the trickily titled “Voice Make a Joyful Noise”.
The thirty-seven minute album breezes by far too quickly, crying out for full-scale, extended dub versioning. The closing, lounge-y “CRB Version” of “Prisoner in Love” is a great start.
Evidently, Akira Kosemura has absolutely no need to undergo any kind of regression therapy, no need to be guided by New Age hands to rebirth himself and recall the moment at which he entered the world in order to solve his earliest mysteries and increase his current well-being. Because he seems to have been born smiling, glad to finally be alive, happy among his fellow human beings, whatever emotional challenges they may bring.
An accomplished composer with numerous dew-drop brilliant, ambient tinged solo piano albums (Polaroid Piano, Grassland) under his belt, Kosemura writes unabashedly buoyant music, which has taken more a turn for small chamber ensembles the past few years (Embers, Trio), strings and piano and illusive electronic treatments conveying the fresh, idealistic breeze that blows through him. With Momentary: Memories of the Beginning, he alternates lilting instrumental pieces, like the tellingly titled “Precious”, with “stories” told by guest singers each with a voice as pure as spring water.
Listening to the lyrics, they all cleave closely to a theme that in psychotherapy is known as attachment theory, about what we need to make it when we´ve been hurt or separated from loved ones. The ranks of Kosemura´s main quartet of voices – Yanaginagi, Nikiie (who wrote most of the lyrics), Lasah, and Shaylee – are swelled by American indie star Devendra Banhart on “Someday” and Kosemura´s own near the end. Nearness, tenderheartedness and unflinching optimism, even in the face of heartache – you can´t imagine this ending anything but well, for all involved, forever.
Momentary: Memories of the Beginning is an altogether uplifting experience, elegantly slipcovered and graced with a big peach sun by Shin Kikuchi, and also includes a DVD featuring five pretty enchanting videos.
Sound / Silence is a road movie using The Book of Kells for a sat nav. In 2012, Pat Collins completed the film Silence, the story of Eoghan, a sound recordist who returns to visit his native Ireland after an absence of fifteen years, to record “the sound of silence” or rather, life as it abides absent of man-made sound. A fool´s errand, as despite the remote terrain he traverses, his journey is dotted with encounters, talkative men and women, “legends heaped upon legends, lore heaped upon lore” and the funny things you can sometimes hear on the wind.
Together with colleague Tadhg O´Sullivan, he returns to the film with this versioning, a remix commentary on sound as a trigger for memory, both individual and collective. Leaving Berlin with a kiss goodbye in the form of a quote from Hölderlin, Eoghan will discover a different kind of silence, one that goes gene deep. Beautifully arranged, Sound / Silence moves across marrow chilling heath and into pub hearth warmth. Voices conversing, reciting, notating, singing (we open with a winsome version of “The Breeze and I“) in German, English, Irish, birdsong high-pitched and dove throaty, are interspersed with a soundtrack proper, so to speak, including excerpts from works by Damian Valles, Akira Rabelais, and Seán Mac Erlaine, respectively.
A country created over thousands of years by the unceasing non-silence of the sea and the sum of the often ornery spirits of its inhabitants, both real and fictional, Sound / Silence is a lyrical evocation of the flowers and the nettles sticking up out of its velvet smooth, green landscape, of the song and the language as a song for the self and as a force of nature, as Eoghan learns. No matter how many songs you sing, there is no gainsaying the sound of silence, as a curlew carries the words off into the wind.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1979 and now residing in Ithaca, New York, the vernacular of Sarah Hennies is immersive, durative sound articulated via vibraphone. The two pieces comprising Gather & Release are each exactly twenty-seven minutes long. Complementing her chief instrument, Hennies employs field recordings, sine waves and “bilateral stimulation,” a psychotherapeutic tool (visual, auditory or tactile) intended to help process emotional information in the treatment of psychopathology. Webside notes explain that Hennies´ musical reconnoitering synthesizes “with her experiences of identity, obsession, anxiety, tension, grief, and loss”.
Out of a mist of white noise, the vibraphone wavers sweetly on “Gather”, like a lightly caressed singing bowl. Receding only to reemerge lower down and more somberly, it smoothes out into a drone, over which Hennies rings a “here I am” bell in the brume. The landscape around her closes in, with an embracive warmth emanating from the ground upward, broken dramatically by a high-pitched, nasal squeal, as piercing as the sewing needle threaded through the cover art fabric.
“Release” is the slow opening of the fist that “Gather” made in its five final minutes. The vibraphone is more conventionally “recognizable” as it is stricken and shimmers into layers of curved air. Then it becomes a metronome, clacking out time, under whose overweening presence a vivid, plummy combination of electronic and acoustic waves flow. In the sixteenth minute, a family recording of Hennies´ grandfather reciting a tragic poem by one May Riley Smith begins, but his voice is summarily attacked by what sounds like a violin being betrayed by its bow. Slave ship tympani replicate the earlier tick-tock, and only a thin whimper slips through its haughty rhythm.
Personal and perplexing but ultimately open-ended, Gather & Release provides us narrative bones, arteries and a soul bared or prepared for further fleshing out.