Michael Pisaro: Fields have ears

Philip Thomas, piano
Edges Ensemble
Another Timbre at37

This is a newish release from Another Timbre.  Not a label I knew before now; clicking through their back catalogue that may be because their focus is more improv-based than I’m usually familiar with. But a recent series of discs around the theme ‘Silence and after’, marking the fiftieth anniversary this year of Cage’s Silence, marks a distinct turn towards composed music.

Of course, in the case of Pisaro, ‘composed’ comes with some heavy qualifiers. Michael Pisaro‘s music hails from that hazy boundary between the intended and the serendipitous. Fields have ears 1 for piano and tape (2008), played beautifully by Philip Thomas, at first recalls the final section of Christopher Fox’s More Things in the Air than are Visible: melancholy piano chords float in a haze of ambient, natural sound. In the case of the Pisaro, this sounds like a field recording made in a summer meadow, surrounded by birdsong. The Fox soundtrack (or at least that on Ian Pace’s recording on Metier) is more urban, but at the same more naturalistic: there is pronounced (even enhanced?) mechanical hum and hiss on the Pisaro tape, ironically alerting us to the materiality of every sound we hear. The piano sits somewhere within this soundscape, both artificial and completely natural.

fields have ears 4 (2009), is somehow less present, in spite of its realisation here for a large ensemble of 14 instruments. As a single note on the inlay puts it, it is ‘intended to be very quiet, with the sounding sections being only “slight indentations” in the surrounding silences’. For all that, they are fascinating indentations, like tiny geodes of sound, as though micro-climatic forces had compressed the surrounding air into miniature sonic-crystal formations. A lot of post-Cage, Wandelweiser-related pieces are impressive in their seismography of the sound/silence interface, but few pieces that I’ve heard articulate quite such a sense of depth residing behind those flickering charts.

Between these two related pieces, the earlier fade for piano (2000) is much more austere: a series of tones, each different, seemingly unconnected, repeated at decreasing volumes and allowed to fade into nothing. The whole sequence spans 20 minutes. Here, without a soundtrack and very little else to cling onto, the ear’s attention is turned to the ways in which silences or unintentional ambient noise structure a composed process that is both extremely simple and completely obscure. As the piano tones fade out of earshot – in absolutely predictable fashion – they invite the ear deeper into a quiet world beyond the generative, organising, cultured attack and beyond that still further into the anarchy of silence.

N.B. If you’re in London and you’d like to hear some of Pisaro’s sonic seismography live, then get yourself to The Nunnery Gallery, Bow Road, this Saturday for music by Pisaro, performed by Jennifer Allum (violin), Dan Shilladay (viola), Rebecca Dixon (cello), Dominic Lash (double bass), Henri Växby (guitar), Jamie Coleman  (trumpet) and Tim Parkinson (voice).

During 1996 Pisaro wrote eight pieces under the collective title of ‘Mind is Moving’. For this event Pisaro has designed a schemata which specifies entry points and duration for each performer in the course of the 3-hours performance.

Date: Saturday 12th February
Time: 6.30pm – 9.30pm
Entrance: Free

Venue: The Nunnery
183 Bow Road, London, E3 2SJ

One thought on “Michael Pisaro: Fields have ears

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