An ecstatic vertigo: Liza Lim’s Tongue of the Invisible (CD review)


There still isn’t enough Lim on disc for my liking (and still less of her longer works), but this release of the 55-minute song cycle Tongue of the Invisible (2010–11) will fill the gap for a while. It’s the latest instalment in Wergo’s musikFabrik Edition.

The situation of the artist within and towards a global culture is one of the great aesthetic wellsprings of our age, and Lim one of music’s most sensitive practitioners. Previous works have turned to urban China (Moon Spirit Feasting) and Aboriginal northern Australia (Invisibility, Pearl Ochre Hair String, Shimmer Songs). Tongue of the Invisible sets words by the 14-century Persian poet Hafiz. One could make an argument for a sort of eclectic tourism, except that Lim approaches musical traditions distant from her own with the greatest respect and artistic sincerity.

Which is not to say that there’s a touchy-feely, post-colonial humility to her music. Not at all. Its baseline sound is very much that of the Western acoustic/orchestral tradition, and its gestural language that of Western musical modernism. It speaks honestly to the messy, ugly and violent global story. Growing up, being trained and making a career in the West endows one with certain perspectives and privileges. To acknowledge that is to grant the same to those growing up in Central Asia, Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa. And it is a global story: the music within Lim’s Western inheritance is heard with the same analytical ear as that without. The sound of it all, in which timbres, forces, impulses and sensations collide (and I mean properly mess each other up; not cozy together around a pomo global beat) is the sound of mutation, creolisation, life, an ecstatic vertigo.

And despite certain stylistic consistencies (a taste for disjunct timbres, whistling harmonics, skirling melodic lines) you can clearly hear the mutations. The Aboriginal pieces of the mid-2000s addressed the ‘shimmer’ of Yolngu art through striated sounds, repeating pulses, and layered rhythms; Tongue of the Invisible employs a palette of drones, melodic ornamentation, solo declamation, drumming patterns and accumulative structures. There are sections of improvisation, which the preface to the score tells us are a ‘metaphor for paths of rejuvenation and the creation of variable meaning’. The piece was written for musikFabrik, and they bring a headily sensual quality to their playing. The instrumental introduction, a sequence of increasingly elaborate solo curlicues over an increasingly massive drone, is one of the most absorbing passages I can recall in Lim’s output. If you’re looking for an introduction to Lim’s music – and if you haven’t already had one then you should be – then this may be what you need.

One thought on “An ecstatic vertigo: Liza Lim’s Tongue of the Invisible (CD review)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s