Tackling William Blake, Madeline L’Engle, Mayan culture, solar winds, WWII, 9/11 and more on a single set is a daunting challenge, but somehow Elizabeth Anderson manages to pull it off. It helps that the majority of the album is instrumental, as lyrics would threaten to undo the entire endeavor. Instead, the listener may be led either by the liner notes or by impression, the latter choice a reflection of Anderson’s own mode of composition. Her swaths of color operate as tone paintings, conveying mood and eschewing the didactic.
The earliest of these compositions was written twenty years ago, the latest only last year, but the album flows well as a whole. There’s no clear line of demarcation; even the track order follows a non-linear path. When one delves into abstraction, one manages to avoid the pitfalls of time-stamped composition. To paraphrase, three of 1994’s top songs were by Ace of Base, while the songs around them borrowed from their phrasing; yet the experimental works of that era have aged well because they weren’t like their peers. Take for example “Mimoyecques,” which contains footfalls, rumblings and fragments of text from Hans Christian Anderson, Alexander Pushkin and Czesław Miłosz, among others. It was never going to be a hit. Only the vocoder seems a bit dated, but perhaps its time has come along again. More importantly, the piece commemorates the workers who died when an underground fortress was destroyed in 1943. The piece works because it is both respectful and outside of time; field recordings, albeit manipulated, are seldom assigned by the mind to a single era.
In contrast, 2001’s “Ether” works because it approaches from the side, unlike many other tributes to the victims of the 9/11 attacks (the brashest and most popular being Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”. Enormously popular at the time, that country song struck the easy, popular chord, but has not endured; when’s the last time you heard it on the radio other than 9/11? “Ether” instead deserves to be mentioned in the same conversations as John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls” as a serious, mysterious work, whose folds hide entry points like the events hid emotional comprehension. The tribute is conveyed through drones, half-whispers and lapping waves, an eloquent elegy inspired by energy as well as human loss.
But not everything here is somber. The first movement of the William Blake-inspired “Les forges de l’invisible” is particularly bright, with tones like sleet on metal alternating with electronic swooshes like diving birds, while the swirling “Protopia/Tesseract”, inspired by A Wrinkle in Time, alternates between ponderous and playful, reflecting the novel’s tug-of-war between protagonists and events. The collection ultimately suggests a form of transcendence – an intellectual re-framing that leads to comprehension, and if not comprehension, at least the early stages of acceptance. (Richard Allen)