How still do you like your stillness to be? As still as “4’33”, as measured as glacial ambience, or inwardly still but outwardly in motion? On his first album since 2011, M. Ostermeier adopts the latter tactic.
As the world begins to stretch its arms and recover from winter, Still offers an aural counterpart. At the start of this short album, the piano notes are cast few and far between, carefully placed so as to conserve energy, like trees who have discarded their leaves. One can even hear the insides of the miked piano. But by the middle of the album, there’s some motion: first wisps of static, then electronic beats, finally light drone. By the end, things have quieted down, as if the end to hibernation had been premature. Yet “parity” offers hints of propulsion, with a horse trot percussion that fights at the reins, desperate to run now that the ice has melted and the fields are again clear.
The album’s stillness may be interpreted in different ways. This is not a particularly dark album, yet titles such as “stasis” and “inertia” hint at an emotional stillness or stagnancy. The drone effects, most apparent on “congruence” (and sounding, perhaps intentionally, like the buzz of artificial lighting), provide a timbre of torpor. But stillness can also be intentional, as a respite from the hectic pace of the modern world. In this sense, the three opening pieces provide a spiritual sense of centeredness, akin to the hymn, “Be Still My Soul”. Once one is centered, one is able to make better choices about which influences to allow in; such an approach is reflected in the increasing instrumentation.
If the end of “division” is the thaw, then “counterpoise” is the river in motion. Ostermeier is less an electronic artist than a pointillist. As the electronic patterns emerge, each seemingly sparked by a chord, one experiences them more as dots than beats. The counter-percussion that emerges as 2:12 provides one of the album’s most fascinating moments, as it seems less programmed than improvised. A third strain emerges at 3:14, threatening to undo the sense of stillness; yet the piano never hurries its pace. It would be interesting to see a visual rendition of this piece, perhaps with Ostermeier at the piano in a subway or at a busy intersection, exposing the contrast between the busy and the still, like the sine waves of the cover architecture set against the lines of constancy. (Richard Allen)