The Leaf label has struck gold with Jherek Bischoff, so it’s no surprise that the composer’s sophomore album is available on limited edition gold vinyl. Four years have passed since Composed, an orchestral pop album which amplified Bischoff’s indie roots and was subsequently re-released in an instrumental version. Now completely vocal-free, the composer has gathered 25 friends for the performance of a lifetime; a great irony considering the fact that the album was born in isolation.
The immediate connection that many will make is to the experiments of John Cage, whose immersion frightened him as he began to hear seemingly foreign sounds, only to realize that they were emanating from his own body. Bischoff’s experience was different, as his two million gallon tank was empty. The cover is metaphoric, only the darkness literal. Bischoff’s time in the cistern reminded him of the pace of sailing; his measured improvisations, aided by 45-second reverb, “gave the room time to sing”. And so, as one might expect, the album is not swift, but slow; not hectic, but focused. Cistern is the perfect album to listen to right now; as the headlines yank the general populace into anxiety and fear, Bischoff seems to say, stay calm, stay centered. His music leads by example. Only one track – “The Wolf” – is foreboding, acknowledging the presence of danger. The others act as shepherds, protecting the flock.
The beauty of Bischoff’s pace is that it enables one to appreciate the nuances of the orchestra. While slow, the music is far from thin. The main theme of the title piece sounds ancient, reflecting the history of the converted church in which the album was recorded. Bischoff invites the strings to echo, repeat and develop this theme until the magnificence of its emotions is unveiled. In its closing minutes, as it soars ever higher, the piece sounds like triumph, like a rising sun dispelling every cloud or a sailboat catching the trade winds. This pinnacle allows “The Sea’s Son” to operate as an aftermath, a quiet reassessment of the journey: the battles lost and won, the ultimate peace revealed. The silences between the strings are as important as the strings themselves, reminiscent of Jóhann Jóhannsson at his finest. When the piano enters, it does so as a familiar friend: one who has been present throughout the journey like a cherished childhood melody, soothing by its very presence.
In the digital age, it’s rare to find albums that demand to be heard as albums, whose quality remains high from start to finish and whose individual parts operate as a suite. Cistern is one of these albums. We’re extremely happy that Bischoff has made this shift to the instrumental world, as his sophomore album is sonic gold. (Richard Allen)