Some field recording enthusiasts prefer their sound works unadorned; some prefer light adornment; and some prefer the heavy adornment of soundscapes. Michael Pisaro‘s new project offers all three. There’s no universal “best” to be found in this three-disc box set; the trio provides a tapestry that celebrates sound, natural and composed.
Morning is perhaps the best time to enter into “Kingsnake Grey”, although the recording is that of a complete nightfall. The quiet detail of the 72-minute piece can be lost if one lives in a louder environment. Pisaro (along with host Greg Stuart) was surprised at the sonic nuances of Congaree National Park as evening faded into night. Expecting a linear narrative, he instead encountered a series of settlings and awakenings. His simple expectation – birds rest, insects appear – was insufficient to tell the story. While listening, one begins to sense that the characters of the sound field are as complex as those in a plotted script. As Pisaro writes, “It began to feel as if we were dealing with something with larger implications than a nice document of the environment.”
“Congaree Nomads” is a linear composition of a non-linear event: 24 three-minute recordings, placed end-to-end in order of their geographical location, adorned with tones and semi-tones, pitches and clusters. These musical additions link the segments like sonic glue, making the silences part of the composition. The disc offers natural sounds that are not present on the first disc, including louder birds (first heard in segment five), flowing water (segment six) and crisp splashes (nine). By focusing on specific sounds, Pisaro loses the sense of an uninterrupted walk, but offers sonic variety in return. Greg Stuart’s lower-pitched instruments (including an unrecognizable glockenspiel) create an intentional fog that “fuses” with the natural sounds, obscuring the marker lines, subsuming the silences, turning the composition into a study continuity and discontinuity as it relates to time.
The same approach to silence v. sound is found on “Anabasis”, which like the second work proceeds from a series of segments to an uninterrupted fugue. Stuart, Patrick Farmer, Joe Panzner and Toshiya Tsunoda contribute fragments of sound; Pisaro gathers them into sonic piles of “sand, wind, wave, tone, and interlude,” and arranges them in 72 (not always distinct) “moments of diversion.” Pisaro writes that “we are generally better at finding continuity than we are at hearing fissures”, but the opposite is true when listening to music. Listeners expect division (the spaces between tracks) and experience silences as such rather than as part of larger compositions. (Even in classical concerts, one must watch the conductor in order to intuit the end of a subtle piece.) “Anabasis” gathers strength as it proceeds, but a large part of its strength is the dispensing of silence; the final uninterrupted quarter is the most powerful. Have we just proven Pisaro’s point? Perhaps. But in this case, the discussion is secondary to the music, so filled with texture that it renders such analysis moot. As much as we want to appreciate music, we desire even more to enjoy it, and this set allows both.
A special appreciation to Yuko Zama for the excellent package design: this box set not only sounds like a labor of love, it looks and feels like one as well. (Richard Allen)