One’s reception of The Book of Dusts will rely on the package one receives. Mine is of a melancholy sort. Opening the cloth packet, I find an 1883 letter from a son, asking for information on a name connected to a father’s funeral; and a curled, black-and-white photo of mourners in a cemetery. All other components are read through this lens. When Emmanuel Witzthum writes, “Flickering dances of shrouds on shadows / The door closes softly,” the connection is impossible to miss. In another poem, he writes of “waves crashing far away.” A metal slide contains an image of distant mountains. And so “Book of Shadows,” the opening track of The Book of Dusts, descends like muted memory, golden strings stretching over an arid horizon that may be an extended family, feet close together, thoughts far apart. Light bass arrives like consolation: words that fail to comfort at the time, but will do so in time, after the initial wave of sorrow has passed.
Not every package is like this: some include happier missives, more celebratory photographs. But all share a nostalgia for a buried era in which communication was linked with penmanship and photos were rare, cherished objects. This personal connection may seem antiquated, but is as precious as the last members of an endangered species. Witzthum provides the music to match: tender, unhurried, a magnifying glass of emotion. The brief title track is like a procession, leading to “Book of Empathy.” We are not meant to be alone. A stop leads to a change of perspective, a perhaps attached to a tear.
The second disc holds a symbiotic relationship to the first, and seems to unfold later in time, after the heart has been wrung out. While the first extended suite draws on modern composition, the second is pure ambience. Each 20-minute segment of “Flowers” is restive, implying the slow fade of flowers at a grave, followed by the planting of new flowers. The tones are drawn out, patient, in no hurry to arrive. They sing of acceptance, of new chapters, of rest in peace as well as peace be with you. The music is a collaboration between Witzthum and Craig Tattersall under the name e+i, drawing a line back to the still-missed Cotton Goods label. “Flowers” forms an integral part of the album, enriching the whole. Once played, the set seems incomplete without it.
Compliments as always to Daniel Crossley and the fine folks at Fluid Audio for putting together another exquisite package, a gift to artists as well as listeners. In The Book of Dusts, past and present swirl into a cycle of serenity. (Richard Allen)