Saturday, September 11, 2010

Step away from the computer

We have major travel rapidly approaching, and my access to the internet will be sporadic at best. I'll post a picture if I can, but comment moderation is unlikely. My iPod is stocked with new music and some old favorites in anticipation of some long plane flights. I've treated myself to some noise cancelling headphones, so I hope to hear some late Feldman, maybe the studio recording of Grisey's Les Espaces Acoustiques. I've got Rifkin's version of Bach's B minor mass, Golijov's La Pasión Según San Marcos, couple of Bruckner and Sibelius symphonies, some broadcast recordings of Arvo Pärt's choral music, symphonies by Vasks and Tüür, …. I find myself drawn to classical music on airplanes, and I have high hopes for these new headphones for actually being able to hear the music.

Highbrow reading material is Céline's Journey, which I read in French during my university years, but this time in the Manheim translation; and George Prochnik's In Pursuit of Silence. I won't even contemplate the convoluted rationales of reading this book while listening to noise cancelling headphones. Somewhat fluffier fare, new fun reading from Carl Hiaasen and Don Winslow.

See you in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Quietly Dying Star

Celer is the musical offspring of Will Long and Danielle Baquet-Long, a husband and wife whose posthumous discography now runs into the dozens. Typically their ethereal drones are composed from highly processed recordings of environmental sound or acoustic instruments such as piano, violin and flute. Their recent album on Dragon's Eye, Dying Star, is both one of their most subdued sonically, and one of the sparsest in sonic origins, using only an analog synthesizer and a mixing board. Granted, analog synthesizers can produce a wide variety of sound, but the sound world here is remarkably consistent, a steady pitch with gently hovering overtones. Volume is generally low and events are few, a thinning or thickening of the harmonic texture and an occasional ringing emphasis in the overtones. The surface calm and relative homogeneity seems especially apt for an album entitled Dying Star.

Although the album is divided into eight tracks, there is only subtle audible differences to distinguish them in the listener's ear. Celer often uses track boundaries for purposes other than delineating musical divisions, and the track titles read like one of the poems that have graced other albums or Celer's blog. Track boundaries are an unusual playground for sound artists. The Hafler Trio, in its long search to challenge perception, released CDs where the track layout didn't correspond in the slightest to the sequence of individual pieces. But I don't think this is Celer's motivation, which almost seems more like an acknowledgment of the essential disordered quality of the spiritual and emotional states presented by their music.

Yet despite the seeming placidity of the Dying Star's trajectory, the album's most poignant moment comes at the beginning of the final track. Flickers (Goodnight) is the only track that doesn't begin in silence, but instead is crossfaded directly from its predecessor. Even more significant, its continuing drone is overlaid with the only two even mildly percussive events, aptly characterized by the flickers in the track title, coming at the very beginning of the track and echoed about forty seconds in. These two events, so quiet as to be barely suggested, and appearing only after forty minutes of quiet undulating drones, are Dying Star's hidden treasure. Is it the dying star finally imploding, creating a brief flash all too easily overlooked? Has the listener drifted into an oblivious somnolence and heard it only in his or her dreams? Celer makes a call to the listener's attention and imagination and thereby elevates this release to one of their best.

Dying Star is released on Dragon's Eye and is available in their shop or from various distributors worldwide.