WIRE review of 'Silence and After' series, March 2011 issue
Michael Pisaro's 'Fields Have Ears 4', realised on his new CD by a mixed ensemble of
14 players, was conceived as a very quiet piece, with sounding sections perceptible
as “slight indentations” in the surrounding silence. All five of these releases from the
Sheffield based label Another Timbre share a tendency towards low volume and
sparse activity or spells of silence. None conforms to a reductivist orthodoxy, but
taken as a series they coincide neatly with the 50th anniversary of John Cage's
influential book Silence.
Practitioners of quiet music steer us precariously along a thin line between
indifference and attention, and although muted dynamics were not of real concern
to Cage, a dialectic between indifference and attention can be traced throughout his
thinking. It's encapsulated in his well-known advice that “if something is boring after
two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight.... Eventually one discovers that
it is not boring at all.” The key is to connect.
Four4, written near the end of Cage's life, extends across 74 minutes, allowing a
quartet of percussionists to choose their instruments and sounds within specified time
brackets. Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson and Mark Wastell respond
imaginatively to the invitation. They get quite rowdy at times, but there are protracted
silences too, gaps that will be filled by indeterminate acoustic events occurring to
Arena Ladridos comes from a very different place. Recorded in Texas, it features
percussionist Chris Cogburn, soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey and the discreet
electronics of Bonnie Jones. Music emerges from a deconstruction of instrumental
identity, a Cageian strategy of releasing instruments from conceptual
pre-configuration and historical precedent, enabling them to become open sound
sources. Who is playing what is rarely clear-cut in the course of these two secretive
The trio Looper are cellist Nikos Veliotis, saxophonist Martin Küchen and percussionist
Ingar Zach, but Dying Sun – co-released with the Cathnor label – is terse chugging,
neurotic sizzling, dull pounding, metallic hollowness, blank, mechanical and anonymous.
This is the silence of exhaustion, the Beckettian burn-out of expression, the poetry of
having nothing to say and saying it. In a sense Pisaro's Fields Have Ears is no less
impersonal. On the opening track in particular, chords hover in the air around Philip
Thomas's piano, while birds call and a plane roars far overhead. The music has a
cool meditative beauty, yet it is disengaged and luminously non-expressive.
Wunderkammern finds Lee Patterson's field recordings and “amplified devices”
fermenting mysteriously along with Rhodri Davies's harp and electronics and David
Toop's laptop, flute and steel guitar. There's magic in the secluded spaces of this
music, each track an auditory cabinet of curiosities, enigmatic, introspective and
strangely glowing. To me this appears the most yielding and potentially rewarding
of the five CDs, but all convey the message that if quiet music runs the risk of
indifference, it may also induce a finely tuned capacity for listening.