How long would you normally watch something that is slowly changing – a sunrise or sunset, a sleeping bear at the public zoo (wake up!), or the lapping of a tide? Such scenes inspire endless fascination for a few, but for most, 21 minutes seems about right. Blue.Hour is one of Yann Novak‘s shorter works, and as such as more effective than those four times its length. Not that the composer’s longform pieces are any less elegant; they simply tax the possibility of undivided attention. Blue.Hour is gorgeous foreground music. One can listen straight through the disc without needing to do anything else, save perhaps staring through a window. If outdoors, the possibilities become endless.
Blue.Hour seeks to capture the slowly unfurling colors of l’heure bleue, the twilight hour. As such, by the artist’s design, it lends itself to “melancholy and meditation”. The problem for many is that they miss this hour in nature; it’s often an hour in which people are returning from work, stuck in traffic, home making dinner or spending time with the kids. But each night, this little miracle takes place, this diffusion of blue. Without a cyanometer, one might miss the gradations. This is where Novak comes in. Steam hiss, undulating keys and mingling chords form a natural progression, more of an arc than a line: from quiet origin to gently assertive transition to quiet diffusion. The piece operates as a soft pocket of calm, a stolen interlude, a sonic mirror. The original installation featured multichannel sound and video, but the new release (to which Novak added “compositional elements”) is portable, and thus adaptable to the needs and desires of the consumer. One would hope that the piece would inspire a series of experiments in home listening, at the very least a spin during the blue hour. I’ve found that it best accompanies l’heure bleue, as originally intended, but is also suitable for the early morning, the late evening, and the contemplation of snow. Others may come to different conclusions, but the key is that it works: neither static nor active, the piece lands just inbetween, betraying its nature as a liminal work.
To hear less of Yann Novak is to hear more of Yann Novak; here’s hoping that we encounter more such works from the composer, deep meaning unlocked through concise form. (Richard Allen)