Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Hearing Metal 2 (CD)
This disc contains the second piece of Michael Pisaro's 'Hearing Metal' series. CD inside a cardboard folder with liner notes info, transparent plastic cover.
(Hearing Metal 2 is a continuous performance: track separations are solely for the convenience of the listener.)
(released August 16, 2011)
Hearing Metal 2 (La table du silence) [2010/2011]
(after Constantin Brâncuși)
to Yuko Zama
Hearing Metal 2 is a continuous performance: track separations are solely for the convenience of the listener.
Michael Pisaro: radio, guitar, sine tones, recording, assembly, mixing, mastering
Greg Stuart: percussion (almglocken, bell plates, brake drums, chimes, various metal instruments/objects with contact microphones, cymbals, glockenspiel, gongs, steel drums, tam-tams, vibraphone), recording
organ samples by John Pisaro
field recordings from:
Big Sur, California
Thanks to Greg Stuart for suggesting and inspiring this work.
design by Yuko Zama
This piece 'Hearing Metal 2' was assembled from a large set of recordings Greg Stuart made of a diverse set of mid-range metal percussion instruments (everything from gongs of all kinds, various ways of playing the vibraphone and brake drums to metal objects he found). This came to about 80 separate tracks. Pisaro divided them into rough groupings according to sound type: pitched, semi-pitched, mixtures and noise. I then adjusted each track (one by one and then in groups - this took a long time) up and down over the course of the piece, according to a chart that "braided" these types of sound together (i.e., with the pitched sounds cresting at 7'30", the noise sounds as 17'30" and so on).
Lucas Schleicher, Brainwashed
It may be that hearing metal means something different than hearing music. Like the Constantin Brâncuși sculpture to which its subtitle refers, Michael Pisaro's Hearing Metal 2 subsists more in the grain and shape of its materials and less in the will of its author. It is composed and performed, and has a beginning and an ending, but it doesn't move from left to right like a song. It feels and sounds more like a space that I can walk through, my position and my frame of mind determining how—and what—I hear.
Inspired by Greg Stuart's close recordings of the 60" tam-tam used in Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mikrophonie I, Michael Pisaro's Hearing Metal series began as project dedicated to hearing the inner life of apparently uniform sounds. The association with Brâncuși sculptures came when he realized that the physical material of his chosen instruments expressed particular qualities or affects on their own—as if a sense of the material were coming through the music. As he explains on his blog, "Any sound, even the simplest, is already (ontologically) multiple. But the multiplicity requires a succession of events to be heard: by extending, repeating, adding and subtracting, one begins to experience the sound more like a verb than like a noun."
I think of that last claim every time I listen to Hearing Metal 2. On the one hand, Pisaro and Stuart's assortment of cymbals, gongs, brake drums, and various metal objects resound together like a single instrument. Listening is like watching a metal sculpture rotate in place. If I sit in one spot and watch it spin, different aspects of its form slide into view and fall away like a slideshow. But if I get up and investigate, peer at it closely, or fix my attention on one of its sides, new qualities pop out. They were always there, but finding them depends on interacting with the piece and not just letting it slide by the way songs typically do. Thanks to the way Pisaro has arranged his sounds, this sculptural feeling is sustained throughout the piece's long, central metallic passage. There are no crescendos or obvious dynamic markers—just the varying qualities of different textures playing against the hum of a central, pitched core. There are quieter and noisier moments, but they don't add up to something bigger and tip the composer's hand.
On the other hand, Hearing Metal 2 unfolds in time and needs time to make sense. The music doesn't resound all at once, and I can't actually walk around it the way I would a sculpture, so I have to listen to what it does. That's when the metal instrumentation begins to express something like an inner life: little networks of rhythm spill out of the otherwise chaotic jumble of junkyard sounds and apparently fixed tones wobble back and forth like they're walking on a tightrope; odd sounds are cast to the periphery and others are pushed to the center as the metal rolls and twists in circles, something Pisaro's stereo mix captures extremely well. But all this happens of its own accord, seemingly without Michael or Greg's influence. The music stops progressing from beginning to end and starts acting, stretching out in different directions, and evolving. The illusion Pisaro and Stuart create is that they had nothing to do with it. The sound was there the whole time, all they did was capture it.
Framing the 40-plus minute core of Hearing Metal 2 are two blocks of field recordings and other seemingly non-metallic sounds. The longer, first section captures oceans and rivers tossing and bubbling in undisclosed locations. Strange, almost psychedelic test tones beam in from outer space. A church organ hums. Sine waves peak out of the silence and succumb to the movement of a stream down a muddy bank. The humming metal doesn't start until over 16 mintes in, and by then it feels as if we've been guided down a waterway just to see this huge edifice Pisaro's built. When it ends, we're brought back to the sounds of running water and chirping birds. It's a reminder that hidden sounds are all around us, and that how we listen is as important as what we hear. (3/17/2013)
Matthew Horne, Tiny Mix Tapes
Richard Feynman, an American physicist, was famous for the attention he placed on teaching; seldom in academia does one find a scholar as intelligent as Feynman, let alone one with the passion and ability to convey his abstractions to novices. I frequently recall the following anecdote:
"Feynman was once asked by a Caltech faculty member to explain why spin one-half particles obey Fermi Dirac statistics. Rising to the challenge, he said, “I’ll prepare a [first-year] lecture on it.” But a few days later he told the faculty member, “You know, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the [first-year] level. That means we really don’t understand it.”
Although this quotation has mostly molded my attitudes toward education, it reminds me lately of Michael Pisaro’s music. There is a reductive elegance in it; it’s not per se simple (maybe simple without being too simple, as Feynman might say), but explicative. Pisaro’s scores are immensely clear, despite their non-standard notation (e.g., ricefall (2) and july mountain), facilitating one’s understanding of their performances and deepening appreciation thereof. These scores translate perfectly into sound, exposing a world of engrossing timbres unburdened by unnecessary complexities. Varying from bending percussive micro-tonalities to prodding sine waves, these beguiling resonances are at times at odds with the perceived accessible nature of Pisaro’s constructions. His pieces, both their score and execution, are akin to an excellent first-year lecture on quantum mechanics; abstract phenomena are presented in a way so that anyone can comprehend and love them.
Pisaro’s “Hearing Metal” series is a multipart lecture of the above, now on its third rendition. Each is in dedication to the sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi, with track names and piece subtitles littered with Brâncuşi references (Sleeping Muse, The Endless Column, Prometheus, 1911). Although the orchestration differs across each entry, each piece is primarily composed of electronic (sine tones, field recordings, a guitar, etc.) and percussive (cymbals, tam-tams, ‘surfaces,’ almglocken, etc.) elements, with every rendition performed by Michael Pisaro (electronics) and Greg Stuart (percussion, a frequent interpreter of Michael’s compositions).
Hearing Metal 1, released in 2009 by Wandelweiser (the composing group of which Michael is a member), was composed in 2008 and 2009 through close interaction between Pisaro and Stuart. With this piece, Pisaro sought “to work within the givens of [the instruments’] landscape, to allow some of [their] implicit contours to reveal themselves — by collecting sounds, giving them a duration, putting them into a clear structure, and cutting a path through them with pure tones.” Hearing Metal 2 and 3, two recent releases on Pisaro’s own Gravity Wave imprint, are a continuation of this aesthetic, once again displaying a keen, unadorned attention to the acoustics of his instruments. And, with this submission to the dimensions of his orchestration, Pisaro unveils an eternity’s worth of resonances, a practice that is at once simple and demonstrative of a deeply fundamental understanding of the aural.
For example, Hearing Metal 2 opens with lush field recordings (from Big Sur, California; Neufelden, Austria; and Haan, Germany) whose depth alone seems endless. Soon coupled with an organ sample of sine tones, the piece reaches an unbounded mass, which when played at high volumes is laden with idiosyncrasies — a near-fractal level of complexity. As well, the second part of Hearing Metal 2 closely pitches sine tones against percussion reverberations to generate an exquisite drone of infinite scope that is nonetheless atomic when examined at extreme volumes.
In contrast to the melange of its ‘successor,’ Hearing Metal 3 has moments of separation wherein Stuart and Pisaro can be discretely heard. For this piece, Stuart revisits the textures of ricefall (2), delicately and not-so-delicately pouring grains onto surfaces. When combined with Pisaro’s tones, the resonances explore a full territory uncharted by ricefall (2). However, there are still moments of Pisaro/Stuart mixing, like when Stuart’s “sixteen suspended cymbals” bow against Pisaro’s sine tones, all of which coalesce into the spectacular drone akin to those found on Hearing Metal 2.
Through their entire durations, Hearing Metal 2 and 3 are awash in otherworldly tones, all the while permeated by a collegial atmosphere. The listener not only feels comfortable when nestled within these metals, but also engages in the process. These pieces never evoke the timeless shit-stain abstract art sentiment of “I could do that”; instead, there is a surjection between what and how: the listener observes a mapping, its outcomes and inputs, yet never uniquely relates an input to its image. The appreciation is heightened by this relation, but because of this ambiguity, “Hearing Metal” is never reduced to a triviality. After all, these resonances are complex.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
Giving a blow by blow account of Pisaro's music is becoming increasingly absurd. The pieces really demand to be considered as a totality (even as some more recent works are more segmented than in years past) and their vastness, both in simple length and, more, in their enormous depth, make normal descriptors seem hopelessly futile.
"Hearing Metal 2" is gorgeous. Its first section wavers in episodes that feel like shutters opening and closing over a camera's lens, a camera mounted in a moving vehicle sometimes, the scene flitting by, blurred. But then it also opens, on occasion, into an area with an organ being played, one with a very "churchy" tonality. There are some oddly loopy moog-like swirls, water, other things. It's disorienting and, first time through, a bit baffling. The combinations of sounds (sine waves threading through the weave) are wonderful, no question; the structure is more difficult to perceive short of the simple fact of the episodes (I haven't seen the score and, I've little doubt, much would be revealed therein).
At around 17 minutes, birds and wind appear. This serves as a brief interlude to the second section, quite a different creature than the first. (It's also where Stuart's contribution is foregrounded--I'm not sure at all what, if any, he playing he did in part 1. btw, both he and Pisaro are credited on the front of the disc so I'm doing the same here; to my ears, the equivalency seems entirely justified.) After a silent start, the sound wells up and is immediately ultra-complex. The first time I listened, my immediate point of reference was Xenakis' great "Bohor", which turns out to be a favorite piece of Pisaro's as well. A similar kind of massive, dense, infinitely detailed throb, a deep churning that possesses an almost geologic character. The sandworms of Dune might make such a noise during their burrowing.
It's an extraordinary block; in fact, I find myself visualizing the piece as a variation on Newman's inverted obelisk: several layers of fractured shards on top, irregular on the whole but well-formed individually, drifting onto this immense, dense slab which, in turn, balances on a tiny point, whose tip bears the entire weight of the piece--the brief return of birdsong at the conclusion.
If I have a qualm it's that I find the structure a bit unsettling, don't quite grasp it save for the image described above which I think is more in my head than anywhere else. But that central section is so rich--I take for granted that Stuart bears much of the responsibility for this--that it obviates any carping. A wonderful disc. (9/13/2011)