Music inspired by literature possesses an inherent depth, serving as the aural twin to prose: a pair of disciplines that each conjure visual images. In two side-long pieces, Peter Knight & Australian Art Orchestra tackle two poles of geography. “The Plains” describes the wide-open spaces of Australian novelist Gerald Murnane’s work of the same name, while “Diomira” investigates the labyrinthine streets of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities ~ a popular tome for scoring, that lends itself to infinite interpretations. Together they form a diptych of expansion and contraction, a base line for musing about space and occupation.
With flurries of piano notes and sweet wordless vocals, “Plains” does indeed flatten out across the prairie, like an endless horizon marked only by the rising of dust and the undulations of light. Knight’s trumpet is present, but not dominant. In the seventh minute, the instruments recede like day creatures giving way to night. Once the crickets emerge, Knight comes into his glory. One imagines a vast canopy of stars, a campfire below. A soft narrator spins a tale of conflict and landscape, sorrowfully repeating the album’s title, implying a lack of recognition: “even though one crossed & recrossed it daily.” The sonic map becomes an elegy. Pensive brass leads a resurrection of tempo, the shifting perspective of knowledge.
“Diomira” ups the ante with an expanded ensemble, including turntable, reel-to-reel, vibraphone and cello. The instruments of pre-recorded technology operate as literal memories, or in the case of Invisible Cities, bread crumbs: “field recordings cut into vinyl,” impressions dislodged from their original settings. We wander the corridors of locations visited, remembered and imagined, certain that what we experience is real, even as reality shifts in our minds and beneath our feet. The piece begins in agitation, slowing only in the fourth minute, because one cannot run this fast for too long. Electronics dart around the speakers like shadows in winding corridors. Layered whispers create additional disorientation. The pulse slows to a crawl, then rebounds. Were we ever really here?
The library of literature is far more expansive than that of film. A movie score is an end point, a commentary on what is already there. A book score is a starting point, an invitation to delve into the land of ideas, of invisible cities without limit. If more readers discover these works because of Knight, all the better; but Crossed & Recrossed is original enough to stand on its own: a brilliant vision from an instinctive composer. (Richard Allen)