Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Sound of Love

If music contains the power to evoke our emotions, what is the sound of love, the most fragile and most sincere of emotional states? Celer's brief but prolific musical trajectory circles this question, adopting a mystical perspective towards living and working through a fragile existence. Their recent CD Brittle was recorded last winter but released just a few weeks after Danielle Baquet-Long's untimely passing in July. Their source material is all acoustic instruments — piano, violin, cello, harpsichord, whistles — but connections between individual sounds and their origins are as fragile and tenuous as the emotions they seek to describe.

Western music is based on a model of tension and resolution, an establishment of expectations and the delayed gratification for the ultimate cadence. But Brittle is carefully constructed to remove all traces of conflict and difference. Even when their individual sounds combine into consonance or dissonance, nothing is ever established as a home base. Even when a pretty chord rolls around, there's no function, no direction, any more than when the elements of a mobile drift into a pleasing shape. Sounds are pure, without attacks, drifting and of long duration. The listener quickly turns off expectations, dismantles the entire cultural listening apparatus, and bathes in the music's warm glow.

The program notes for Brittle outline some of Celer's always interesting working methods. Their drifting ambient music is an outgrowth of using open forms, creating small pieces that combine in various ways to create a larger work. Nacreous Clouds, their 2008 release on and/OAR, was composed of 37 short tracks that encouraged shuffle mode, creating a different listening experience each time. Brittle shares the earlier album's sound world but is one long track that was originally comprised of many smaller fragments. One imagines that the resulting piece is one of several possibilities, that in a parallel universe the Brittle release would have been sequenced differently. But where Nacreous Clouds displayed its seams, little moments of silence between each track, Brittle is a continuous stream of music, and the nineteen separate tracks that lie at its origins are completely erased, blended into a complete unity.

The normal musical vocabulary is insufficient to describe Brittle, so a reviewer struggles to find appropriate metaphors. Perhaps like fire light, the music is always moving, always flickering, never settling into a constant sonic wash. Or like the water in a mountain stream, moving over rocks, a continuous variation of sound, light and shadow. By removing musical landmarks, Celer demonstrates the fragility of existence, and Brittle becomes an environment for meditation and prayer. The peaceful work completely merges with its environment with nearly three minutes of room ambience, subtly framing the delicate sounds that have preceded, leaving the remaining music solely in the listener's imagination.

The disc itself is adorned with a quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours, and the gatefold wallet cover includes an brief, elegiac essay. It is available directly from Low Point, from Celer's shop Floor Sugar, and from a great source for Celer recordings, Infraction Recordings.


Dan said...

Wonderful review to a very special release!

maready said...

Thank you again for making me aware of Celer; I am only sorry that I first heard of them and sought out their recordings because of your notice of Danielle Baquet-Long's death. I am glad to know that there is another release and, again, must thank you for alerting me to this release.