RÁS underlines the importance of liner notes in music, especially instrumental music. Without any words, the listener is “freed” to imagine their own stories, but with prose, the music takes on added resonance. For Wayne Robert Thomas, the impetus of “Cantus In Memoriam Mark David Hollis” is to pay tribute to a fellow musician. It’s a beautiful piece, soft and meditative, but without context is akin to a passing cloud. Hollis was the lead singer of Talk Talk, but we can’t help but feel that he would be moved by this instrumental tribute. These morphing tones carry a meaning more than the sum of their notes. While listening, we feel the loss anew.
“A Grey Morning, Later Lovely Sunshine” is more and less personal than its predecessor. As Thomas writes, Alexandra Fyodorovna’s words “described the day of July 16, 1918. Unbeknownst to her and the rest of the Russian royal family they were to be brutally murdered late into the night.” Thomas connects this historical grief to his own, in days of struggle regarding sunlight with suspicion. Hopeful notes fade in and out, never putting up much of a fight. The track may be melancholic, but it also prompts an alternate reading. If we knew the day were to turn dark, might we enjoy the grey a little more? Is life more precious once we recall that it is finite?
Isaac Helsen‘s music is the perfect balance for Thomas’ musings. Helsen’s cover photograph displays a colorful church set into a hill. No one seems to be there, but the church itself is well kept, a stunning vista regardless of one’s religious beliefs. The implication is that comfort may be found in nature and architecture as well as in faith. Helsen writes, “It is often only in hindsight that … our vision widens and clarifies. The melancholy remains but is buoyed by a new hopefulness, a landscape unfolding, a bright contentment with what is and has been.”
On the side-long track “In Which We Hold Our Breath to Gather Light,” the sun does indeed break through: first hinted in static and eventually in melody. If Side A is the sunset, Side B is the sunrise. The realization is slow, but steady. By mid-piece, the artist has created a bedding of drone like a base mood, atop which strings play a heartfelt invitation. Then the drones retreat, leaving only the brilliant sun. Soon there are only tendrils, drifting down. When three minutes remain in the eighteen minute track, a piano makes its first appearance, symbolizing that “bright contentment.” One can imagine Helsen writing his side as a response to Thomas’ side, gently reengaging him with the world. Would we intuit such things without words? Perhaps. But with them, we are enriched. (Richard Allen)