Graham Lambkin/Michael Pisaro - Schwarze Riesenfalter (lossless)
Lossless AIFF (16bit/44.1kHz)
Balancing active organized sound worlds from Graham Lambkin with Wandelweiser discretion from Michael Pisaro in five tracks that punctuate concrete sound compositions with Feldman-esque piano progressions, bound together by a short poem; captivating and elusive.
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1. Leuchtfeuer (4:30)
2. Aufflattern die Fledermäuse (17:17)
3. Ein eisiger Wind (5:26)
4. Zerbrochene Münder (17:17)
5. Unkönig (4:30)
(released February 14, 2015)
mastered by Jason Lescalleet
cover art by Graham Lambkin
layout by Matthew Revert
produced by Jon Abbey
Joshua Minsoo Kim, Tone Glow
Schwarze Riesenfalter is a wholly unique work for both Lambkin and Pisaro. For one, it feels like a modern day tone poem. The symmetry of the track times as well as the fact that the album and song titles match the accompanying poem indicate that there’s an intention to create a narrative and representation of the text through music. Consequently, a clear reference point seems to be Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and the Giraud poems from which that work builds on. Talking with Pisaro, he states that the creative process for the record was mostly intuitive, however, and the literary allusions that were then used for the track titles “seemed more than appropriate, almost like we’d been visited by it”. He also mentioned the works of Trakl, and it seems incredibly appropriate because like the Austrian poet’s (later) works, Schwarze Riesenfalter is incredibly visual and atmospherically ominous without feeling heavy handed or dishonest. It’s precisely the way that Lambkin and Pisaro handle the theatrics on this record that makes it so admirable. The piano is most impressively utilized, often providing restraint by grounding the sounds it juxtaposes while simultaneously creating tension through rumbling overtones and the weight of single atonal notes. And with a large sound palette and effective pacing, Schwarze Riesenfalter proves to be a journey that’s as mesmerizing as it is entertaining.
Nick James Scavo, Tiny Mix Tapes
Dark, black, giant butterflies
killed the sunshine.
Like a closed magic book,
the horizon rests — hidden.
From the smoke of forgotten depths
wafts a fragrance, killing the memory.
Dark, black, giant butterflies
killed the sunshine.
And from heaven toward earth
sink with heavy swinging
the invisible monsters
down upon the hearts of mankind…
Dark, black, giant butterflies.
– Black Butterflies, Albert Giraud / Nacht (Passacaglia), Arnold Schoenberg
An evocation of “Nacht,” Graham Lambkin and Michael Pisaro’s chilling, malefic collaboration directly references Giraud’s collection of poems, Pierrot Lunaire, and Arnold Schoenberg’s melodrama of the same name. Despite the continental subject matter, Schwarze Riesenfalter isn’t an academic act of re-rendering a historical text. Their use of verse comes across as the result of warped poetic fascination and fixation, where a text crawls underneath skin, finding ways to subtly influence the mundane, whether it be mulled over with coffee or represented within the proudest moments of the artists’ daily practice. It’s easy to see “Nacht” in the work’s track titles, which reference environmental images of night pierced by blasts of light (Leuchtfeuer), clouds of winged creatures (Aufflattern die Fledermäuse), and icy winds thrown against stark, European vistas (Ein easier Wind). Or, perhaps the extent of allusion is found in the conceptual dimension of the titular image of the “Black Butterfly” itself, a sort of simultaneously guiltless and ominous figure that seems more innocent in Giraud’s original french, “Papillons Noir,” more brutal in German “Schwarze Riesenfalter,” and just plain weird in English — “A Giant Black Butterfly.”
Given a tradition of Erstwhile’s “dream” collaborations, an alliance between Pisaro and Lambkin seems essential due to the intersectional and divergent qualities of their compositional styles. For one, Pisaro’s membership in the Wandelweiser group ties him to a quasi-Cagean compositional agenda that values the intentional integration of non-sound and silence into systems that merely present flows of constant sound. Similarly, Lambkin’s approach has often included the economical design, organization, and juxtaposition of diverse sound sources. Both, in their own ways, explore elements of phenomenological contingency, as Lambkin’s sound-sampling takes on unknown semiotic quality given the counterpoint and chance of their sudden relationships, while Pisaro’s heavily mediated scoring develops music’s ability to communicate temporality through controlled experiments happening within measured spans of time. Where Lambkin discusses the pleasure of discovering how Spanish radio leaked into a recorded track, Pisaro pens liner notes prompting instrumentalists to turn on static at specific intervals. Also, interestingly enough, they are both originally guitar players, a fact that inevitably ties them to the instrumental condition of “rocking” and the fantastic sense of humor and melodrama that often comes nicely packaged with the instrument.
The odd couple of the comedic and the darkly absurd is embodied through Giraud and Shoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and the music of Schwarze Riesenfalter. The classical Pierrot figure’s macabre lunacy is reified within the serious, disturbed “playfulness” of the album, be it through the “tuning” moment of a vibrating phone or the exasperated phlegm-filled vocalizations on “Zerbrochene Munder.” Whereas Schoenberg aptly captured an essence of “The Fool” in flighty atonal motifs that illustrate a progression from sex and escapade to violence and blasphemy, Lambkin and Pisaro abstract the character into the singular voice of “Nacht” — the character’s vivacity is rendered into a twisted, forlorn setting. Schoenberg’s obscure use of seven-note phrases, a seven member ensemble, and other numerologically significant choices are mirrored in the duo’s unknown choice of symmetrically sequencing track lengths: 4:30, 17:17, 5:30, 17:17, 4:30.
Given the abstract tendencies of both artists, the music itself occasionally represents the accompanying text: it contains a linear, well-paced dramatic structure that involves periods of tension, release, and atmosphere — the semblance of a poetic narrative. Opening piece “Leuchtfeur” has the duo at their most sonically oppressive, as a dirge-like piano is hammered out in the lower register amidst sparkling white room noise. The keys trickle up into gnarled groups, articulating an enshrined space of reverence as the notes fade out into fog. Soon after, we’re given the episodic “Aufflattern die Fledermäuse,” a triumph of a composition that has ascending piano-work surfing though diverse collections of sound material: the comical inclusion of the vibrating phone erupts into clangs of metal and wood, throat singing, owls, and gongs, while razor-sharp arrangements of flute and synthesizer become wrapped in cloaks of digital smoke. I’m also almost completely certain that the preliminary vocalizations are sourced from that one YouTube video with the talking cat saying “no, no, no”… maybe? In any case, the result is entirely entrancing, as the piece keeps its materials relatively visible while leaving the process opaque. Although I can attempt to visualize a composer-ly division of labor, all that’s clear is the towering, breathtaking force of composition. The frigidly digital synth tones of “Ein eisiger Wind” allow for an unsettling meditation that’s well placed to set up the second long-form piece, “Zerbrochene Münder,” a lurching journey that pairs wavering overtones with field recordings of breath and birdsong. Then, a horrifyingly raw human voice pitches a single syllable utterance in near silence.
The complete musical opacity of Schwarze Riesenfalter is an asset that lends itself well to the temporally fluid experience of listening to its overwhelmingly diverse collection of sound-sources. Although there are accompanying historical reference points, the work is a singular entity that demonstrates how a text can seed memory and experience to develop anti-narratives that are laterally situated to a given referent. Yes, we vaguely see Giraud and Schoenberg in the duo’s murky exploration, but perhaps more, we see how a text can become warped and infinitely rearranged within the limitlessly contingent aspects of perception. Pulling out clear answers from a piece this cataclysmically obtuse feels like digging up strangely eroded black stones from the mud of a riverbed. Maybe it’s best to consider the piece as clouded as the nature of collaboration itself; creative communication can force contingency, given that one must respond to the perceptual apparatus of another working mind. The music becomes irreconcilably determined by the unknown interiority of the collaborator, as infinite combinations of independence and cooperation formulate strange new forms. This spirit of liminality forms the essence of experiencing Schwarze Riesenfalter — a space between light and dark, where midnight brooding helps to welcome a more light-hearted, mystical type of moment with the potential for the wandering soul to “experiment” with devastation. The moment where a text becomes your own warped narrative — The Fool, The (Giant) Black Butterfly, Black Stones, A Riverbed, The King…Mouths, “Nacht.”
Black butterflies crowd the midnight sky.
A beacon pierces the offshore mist with firelight.
We awaken to the flutter of bats, a passage of hawks.
An icy wind of bleached birches and synthesized snow.
Rude chorus of fragmented mouths submerged in rumor.
The king lies deposed, un-dead.M
– Michael Pisaro / Graham Lambkin
Bryon Hayes, exclaim
Schwarze Riesenfalter is an album that is folded in upon itself. Both the musical content and the track lengths of this fantastically confounding disc are mirrors of each other, with two short yet highly dramatic piano pieces bookending the proceedings, nestled up against a pair of lengthy field recording-heavy compositions. These four tracks sandwich the album's drone-based centrepiece, the lovely "Ein eisiger Wind."
As conceptually heavy and full of emotional depth as this collection of music is — the music is accompanied by a short poem that was allegedly set to the songs afterwards — there are elements of humour dotting the soundscape. Graham Lambkin is a former member of the Shadow Ring, a group that turned post-punk on its head and chuckled at it with a dry English wit. His is an oeuvre that doesn't differentiate between musical and non-musical sound; frequently working in the duo format — his trilogy of albums with Jason Lescalleet is particularly noteworthy — he finds joy in the mundane, often recording random events around his own house for use in future projects. Michael Pisaro, on the other hand, is a member of the notoriously quiet Wandelweiser Group, a collective of composers and performers that seek to integrate the notion of silence and sparseness into their work.
It's tempting to point to the light-hearted moments of Schwarze Riesenfalter and immediately think of Lambkin (the buzzing cellphone, the almost drone-like drawn-out voice passages) and similarly attribute the musical piano lines to Pisaro. The reality is most likely not even close to such a conclusion, as the separation between the two contributors is lost in the wake of a happy synergy. It's of no consequence, really, as the music itself obliterates the need to single out the individual personalities. Two men worked as one and unleashed a beast of an album for people to enjoy; enough said.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Very odd fluctuations in listening experience with this album over the last few weeks. Initially, I was absolutely entranced by the pure sonic richness and dark beauty of the music, the wonderful, if logically difficult to grasp, integration of the piano and field recordings. More and more, however, I found myself being captured by the sheer strangeness of it, a kind of eerie otherness, the shifting of realities that, for me, had very much to do with (faulty) memory. I've since gone back and forth between those poles with this very moving and disturbing work.
There's a lot of symmetry in play here, beginning with the pair of reflected cover images, front and back. As has been seen before in his collaborations with Jason Lescalleet, Lambkin enjoys playing around with track durations for various, often oblique, purposes. Here the five tracks last 4:30, 17:17, 5:26, 17:17 and 4:30; It wouldn't surprise me if the lengths themselves held some significance. Tracks 1 and 5 are essentially solo piano (one can discern a good amount of ambient sound) while tracks 2 and 4 are largely field recordings and other manipulations, the second ("Aufflattern die Fledermäuse") ending with several minutes of piano, the fourth ("Zebrochene Münder") both beginning and ending with same, throwing in a needed asymmetrical touch. The central piece, "Ein eiseger Wind", exists in a separate space, dreamy and drony. The titles are image-extensions from ideas in poems by Albert Giraud which were used as texts for Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" (The album title is an exact extraction from one). Reading up a bit on it, I learned that Schoenberg was somewhat obsessed with numerology so perhaps the track durations are a nod in that direction. Musically (having refreshed my memory by watching a performance on video) I can't hear much of a connection but maybe it's in there, beyond my ability to parse out.
In fact, probably led on by the German title and track names, my initial correlation was to Schumann and German lieder. Not that I am at all well-versed in the area (I'm not!) but the dark, even mordant Romanticism (like a painting by Böcklin) had me half-expecting to hear Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau well up from the depths. "Leuchtfeuer" ("Beacon") opens with six pairs of extremely low piano chords, each held 9-10 seconds, quite funebral, only gradually working its way to a less murky light, though an inky undercurrent remains, and the nether reaches, quavering, are reached again now and then. You can hear odd sounds in the background, kind of wood on wood slaps and, at one point what sounds like a faucet turned on and off. This is jarring in and of itself, not allowing the listener to dwell simply in the apparent drama but opening a wider door into the surrounding world, one seemingly unaffected by the sense of heaviness and loss, very workaday, including the final sound, metal tossed on wood. The transition from this umbral dream-state is brought almost horrifically to the fore with the incredibly annoying sound of a cellphone on buzz, an element that has the added benefit of causing household consternation if played at sufficient volume. I've assumed, not that it matters, that it's been Pisaro on piano and Lambkin on residual sounds, which come into their own on the second cut. I did momentarily have the mischievous thought that they might have surreptitiously switched roles for this release but...naah. The cell buzzes twelve times (well, twelve and a quarter), maybe echoing those initial pairs of piano chords? A harsher version of the clatter that ended the first track leads to some sampled wooden flute that I swear I've heard before (a shakuhachi recording? Don Cherry?) and things then tumble headlong into a dense mass of overlaid tape sounds; I thought one sounded like an unholy grafting of a baby's babble and a cat in heat before I realized it must come from one of those "cats saying no" videos--that, arguably, makes it worse. Low, Tuvan drones, through which the piano appears like a wraith, pensive single notes that morph into electric piano variations on the same, with helicopter-y flutter. Beautiful, creepy.
"Ein eisiger Wind" ("An Icy Wind") both lives up to its title and stands apart, a kind of nodal point at the end of an ellipse, all soft, electric drones, light and sandy to thrumming, low and dull, with periodic washes of possible shore waves. The painfully titled "Zebrochene Münder" ("Broken Mouths") starts with piano, slow, hands near the upper and lower extremes, agitated but perhaps stuck in dream-motion, unable to move quickly. The music moves back to the real world, so to speak, shuffling sounds, general hum, Lambkin's voice, distorted, birds and beeps, everything displaced, blurred/sharp. Are those flamenco castanets? But no, they falter into just "taps", confusing. It's a truly amazing sound world created here, moving with rapidity from one element to another (or, rather, several elements, to several others) but seamlessly, with dream-logic firmly in place. When you hear frolickers at a park or the beach, you also get subterranean bellows from some behemoth threatening to arise from beneath; those black butterflies clearly portend death. The piano, more processional now, almost stately in its dirge, reappears, leading directly to the closing "Unkönig", back down into darkness, though dappled with patches of light. Such deep, lovely chords here, so sad and true, offering momentary resolution before the inevitable downward trek.