Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Hearing Metal 3 (CD)
This disc contains the third piece of Michael Pisaro's 'Hearing Metal' series. CD inside a cardboard folder with liner notes info, transparent plastic cover.
(released August 16, 2011)
Hearing Metal 3 (Prometheus, 1911) [2010/2011]
after Constantin Brâncuși
to red fish blue fish
Michael Pisaro - sine tones, mixing, mastering
Greg Stuart - sixteen suspended cymbals, grains/surfaces, recording, mixing
Thanks to Greg Stuart for suggesting and inspiring this work.
design by Yuko Zama
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
In some ways, I find this a more difficult go--not on the surface but trying to parse out the structure beyond the rather monolithic block that's readily perceived. Part of me hears the work as an extended version of, say, an old Art Ensemble piece (I know Michael grew up listening to the AACM!) wherein there's a long quiet percussive build via malleted cymbals and other drony devices (see the beginning of "Ohnedaruth" on Phase One) that eventually explode into the theme or collective improv, etc. Here, the first 23 minutes have something of that aspect, a dense matrix of ringing tones generated, I take it, by bowed and struck metals. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, knowing his earlier work, and even so, it's quite enticing and endlessly listenable. At the 23-minute mark, however, Stuart breaks into what I think can be fairly heard as a trap set mini-explosion, as though Don Moye had just entered the building. Somewhat prior, Pisaro had begun generating very organ-y sounding sine tones and these persist in this section, continuing and complexifying (?) as Stuart switches to cymbals, again sounding very much in a kind of avant-jazz tradition. It then kind of "fans out", sublimating between brushed drums, softer cymbals, half-buried sines and I imagine much more. One gets the sense of spray, of vapor.
It quiets down to a gentle patter, skittering for the last several minutes; very lovely.
"Hearing Metal 3" feels very much of that arc--quiet/loud/quiet--but there are many strands threading their way through it and, five or six listens in, I think I'm still only getting glimmers of what's actually there.
Needless to say, both releases are automatic gets for anyone at all interested in Pisaro's music. Me, I'm getting ready to go out this evening and see him in duo with Radu Malfatti. Should be smokin'. :-) (9/13/2011)