Let the Cold Stove Sing is moody, introspective and gravitational. It’s a more restrained album than we’re used to hearing from Michael Begg (Human Greed), but it may be his best. The flow is incredibly smooth, given the fact that these 14 pieces were composed for different installation, theatre and gallery settings. For this we credit wise sequencing and tonal consistency, along with a consistent underlying theme: the artist’s interest in the use of space. In a physical setting, such a theme is obvious; in a sonic setting, one gleans impressions through the separation and/or overlap of notes.
The mood is set with “Hopetoun Tower Before the Harvest”, as thin sheets of drone peak only lightly, receding for reflection. When the piano enters on the title track, it seems a natural outgrowth; and when the piano retreats, the first flashes of dissonance are revealed. Now the stage is set for pretty much anything the artist has in mind, requiring only that he remain within the parameters he has set ~ which he does.
One of Begg’s strengths has always been his desire to offer variety within both tracks and albums. While the title track is a perfect example, it’s quiet. More obvious is the orchestral-to-experimental “The Children Will Wet The Academy Floor – Les Couloirs”, which makes the transition so smoothly few will even notice. Again illustrating the principle of flow, the chimes that close this track lead to the field recordings of the next. In a sonic field, we tend to think of physical space, as we contemplate the nearness of clearly identifiable sounds, clustered in such a way as to create sonic claustrophobia. In real life, the mind filters out the less relevant sounds to focus on the most immediate and compelling, but in this space, the raw data is presented for perusal. In other words, the listener can press Repeat until some form of comprehension is achieved: did the mind block out one of the sources? Are they interrelated?
The remainder of the album contains branches and amplifications of the spacial theme. Birdsong provides one of the most compelling segments in “Leisure in F,” because the birds seem more active, almost a murmuration, as children play nearby. Are the children aware of the birds? If the children had come before the birds, how would we have heard the track differently? When seabirds appear on the subsequent track, are we meant to understand their links, or are such patterns unintentional? We suspect that with Begg, nothing is unintentional: neither avian links nor the transition from playful children to slightly intimidating children, from light timbres to dark. When the storm finally breaks on “Studies in Space and Density,” it’s only after an album-long buildup, like a day of clouds preceding a brief batch of thunder. In the sweet relief that follows, there’s even time for a little levity as the cold stove is finally allowed to sing. (Richard Allen)