AMN Reviews: Michael Pisaro – Resting in a Fold of the Fog [Potlatch P117]

P117_cover.inddMuch of composer Michael Pisaro’s work is driven by the desire to explore the often complex ramifications of an ostensibly simple, fundamental idea. It isn’t unusual for him to take as his starting point the act of listening, whether to environmental sounds or to the properties of the material resources—sometimes deceptively basic—that his compositions call for. And focused listening does seem to be the key to the reception of the two long pieces collected on Resting in a Fold of the Fog.

Grounded Cloud (2015-2016) is a work for electric guitar, electronics and amplified bass drum. The latter instrument, played by the Dedalus Ensemble’s Stéphane Garin, gives the performance a distinctive, rain-like sound by having been prepared with grains of rice arranged to vibrate on its surface. Over its twenty-minute length the piece traces a long-period, undulating dynamic of accumulation and dispersal helped along by noise from Pisaro’s electronics and the electric guitar of Didier Aschour, also of the Dedalus Ensemble. (Although Pisaro played electric guitar on the piece’s premiere performance in November 2015, here he is on laptop.)

Hearing Metal 4 (2010-2011) for bowed glockenspiel, electric guitar and laptop, is the fourth in a series of compositions centered on the sonic properties of a specified metal percussion instrument. Originating with a piece for sixty-inch tam-tam, with this installment the series moves to a much smaller and higher-pitched instrument. As with many of Pisaro’s compositions, the focus of Hearing Metal 4 is on making explicit the multiplicity of sounds implicit in a single material or sonic gesture. The pitch material is accordingly simple: An ascending A major scale. The scale is arranged as a series of events separated by silences; with each succeeding tone the glockenspiel’s thin, almost transparent sound shimmers when intersected by the guitar and electronics. When listened to closely this piece, like the previous one, yields a sometimes surprising, albeit restrained, sensuality.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Michael Pisaro – Melody, Silence [Potlatch P115]

20282Guitarist/composer Michael Pisaro is a well-known figure associated with the Wandelweiser group, a fluid collective of composers and musicians interested as much in the spaces in between sounds as in the sounds alone. This interest is conveyed not only in the title of this single long work for solo guitar, played by Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear, but in the structure of the work itself.

Melody—or more frequently, harmony—and silence are the two fundamental states between which the forty-six minute long piece oscillates. The piece is largely a sequence of discrete chords or notes played individually or clustered together in packets of a few, separated by silences. Each chord or tone is allowed to linger and decay at its own rate. Some chords work together like progressions with more or less expected cadences, while others eschew any allusion to resolving, sounding instead like juxtaposed aggregates of tones, some of them combined into dissonances of varying degrees of pungency. At about four minutes in, an unexpected, recurring third element is introduced—a prolonged sine tone (or ebow?) that in its initial occurrence here lasts for nine minutes or so.

Because Melody, Silence is made up of a set of components to be arranged by the performer, the piece as played on this recording is a reflection not only of Alvear’s fine touch, but of his structural choices as well.