Imagine : artists of the British label Touch as Hazard, Philip Jeck or Fennez, playing at St-Pierre Cathedral (...)
The theme of this concert, more or less 5 hours long, was the organ. Yes, indeed, the pipe organ so liked by JS Bach. But this live series has as a purpose to bring us to a musical journey based on the "Spire : organ works past present & future" album, recently released by Touch.
In the first part were the STRUCTURES, with works composed during the 20th century by important people like Messiaen, Jolivet, Gorecki.... and a world creation especially for the Batie festival composed by Marcus Davidson, and last but not least, a work of Liana Alexandru. This part was a real sound firework, unforgettable with the acoustics of a church.
The second part was played in the Chapelle, right in the same building. This was the FIRST PHASE OF DESTRUCTURATION, with BJ Nilson aka Hazard, playing with himself. He began to destructurate the organ sounds by a go-and-back from his laptop to the church organ (...). Complementarity between the ancient and the newest sounds, but both composed in such an old place.
The third part was the SECOND PHASE OF DESTRUCTURATION, in the archeological site of the St-Pierre Cathedral, where Philip Jeck gave us a kind of archeology of sounds, from organ, rock, kitsch or scratching. He was trying to go to the source of sound, and ironically with vynil discs if you compare them with the CD, mp3, or wma files… In short, a beautiful set of turntabilism which asks questions about time, time which is running, time of artistic creation....
The last part was maybe going to give us a answer : PHASE OF RESTRUCTURATION, with Christian Fennesz, who recreated organ sounds on his laptop (he is using the LLOOPP software), an musical ocean, an "organic" ocean, the one which gives birth to new intemporal sound shapes, which have a name :
[Thierry Charollais, Sept. 2004, Geneva]
It’s been a while since we featured any of Mr Wozencroft’s work and he is still ploughing his unique furrow beautifully. There are some great details on this double CD of live recordings of organ music old and new, which included performances by Charles Matthews, Marcus Davidson, BJNilsen, Phillip Jeck and Christian Fennesz,. The two CDs and booklet come in a printed card folder, and one of those details is that the outside is uncoated, the inside is smooth and coated. Another is that the dot on the ‘i’ in Spire has been replaced with an asterisk. The front cover features not only the title but the track listing which is, like the rest of the type, all in the same face (Clarendon?). I like the way he sidesteps anything obviously related to a cathedral and the cover photo appears to be just a meadow and some trees hiding a house, until you notice a few gravestones peeking over the grass. On the back, some apparently unrelated winter woodlands, a beautiful shot. Open the folder to find 2 images on the flap. [The upper is of sheep grazing in a field that’s laced with scores of their tracks worn into the grass. Below it, a very low-light shot of an extremely crowded graveyard. Inside a pouch opposite we have the colour booklet, printed on a stiff uncoated stock, and two CDs in simple blank white slip sleeves. On the booklet cover, nine sheep on a sunny winter’s day, most alert and looking into the camera. I got the ‘sheep’ idea but it took a few seconds before ‘flock’ and its more positive connotations came to mind; I started looking a little closer, and thinking about the Christian church’s vernacular… Those sheep tracks in the field… The back of the booklet shows cars speeding towards an urban underpass. Taken from the concrete bridge, at the bottom of the frame is the bridge railing, densely packed with layers of scribbled graffiti, which gives an apparently grey and bleak image a rich and human dimension. The only decipherable words are two instances of the name Diana. ‘Diana’ and a tunnel… Inside, a written overview of the concert and its intellectual basis, handily also translated into French if you want to improve yours. Two more images, or rather one, mirrored: reflections in a river. The CDs feature more textural images, combining purple and green duotones respectively with the blank silver of the CD to full effect. Once again Wozencroft uses his straightforward photography to tantalise and invite engagement. The passive viewer will see some nice pictures. Others will find the rewards of a rare metaphorical richness, and more than a few questions. [Alex Crowfoot]
Geneva’s St. Pierre Cathedral (St. Peter’s, usually, to English speakers) has been host to its share of monumental history. The church, built in 1160, was the site of John Calvin’s revolutionary teachings and a central location in the Reformation movement. On September 4, 2004, however, the cathedral played home to a different sort of event, one in which the church’s role in religious history was only a secondary attraction. In conjunction with Touch’s Spire: Organ Works Past, Present, and Future, a night of performances had been planned; rather than marvel at a chair once occupied by Calvin in thought, attention centered on the cathedral’s organ and the architecture of the building in relation to the music performed there. The night consisted of three distinct phases: the structural, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Through the three stages, the music of what Thierry Charollias calls “the king of instruments” was performed, examined, and redefined through the work of not only contemporary organ players and composers, but also a trio of artists whose relationship to the organ is more tangential. This two-disc set is a document of the night’s music, and while I’m rather certain it doesn’t compare to being in the cathedral that night, Spire: Live in Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre remains an engrossing treatise on the relevance of an instrument too often forgotten by modern secular music.
The album’s structural phase features modern organ compositions performed by Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson. Interestingly, Matthews chose to play two pieces by Davidson, as well as works by André Jolivet and Liana Alexandra. Davidson’s contribution is Henryk Gorécki’s 16-minute “Kantata fr Organ Op. 26.” The selections performed in this phase exhibited the organ’s austere beauty, as well as its potential in the realms of more modern composition. Alexandra’s “Conconances III” is a highlight that utilizes wonderfully some of the organ’s potential for bombastic, yet minimalist, beauty. Gorécki’s piece is another of the disc’s best, beginning with thick drones before detouring into much quieter low-end rumble. The clout of the piece is a perfect end to this phase of the event, a final reminder of the pure power of the instrument before the deconstruction began.
The night’s deconstruction took place in smaller venues, a small chapel adjacent to the cathedral, and the crypt area underneath. BJ Nilsen’s half-hour “Rues Basses” began the second movement of the performance, with the performer alternating between electronics in organ, creating a sprawling sea of thunderous sound. Deep organ ebbs and flows over a crackling stream, as the instrument’s distinctive voice slowly fades into the insistent buzz. Single tones ring out, buffered by silence, before Nilsen invokes the organ to end the piece in a short-lived revival. Later, in the crypt, turntablist Philip Jeck continued the deconstruction. He begins with layered samples of organ before introducing other instruments into the piece, most notably some heavy, jarring guitar riffs and a repetitive, mechanical loop that evokes thoughts of robotic movement. While Nilsen’s deconstruction was of a more subtle nature, Jeck appears determined to deform the original sound of the organ through conspicuous stylistic battery, an approach that not only upsets the homogeny Spire had heretofore attained, but also puts Jeck, and his manipulations in the spotlight, rather than the organ itself.
The whole of the album’s reconstruction phase is Christian Fennesz’s 25-minute offering, which was performed in the morning in the chapel. Fennesz slowly lowers a shimmering blanket of sound on the listener, combining organ tones and electronics into an ethereal chorus. As paths converge and diverge, layers of sound are uncovered, and though Fennesz works in a rather minimalist mode, his piece is perhaps the album’s richest, and a fittingly sublime conclusion to the album and concert. [Adam Strohm]
Double CD of exclusive tracks, especially notable for long live tracks by Fennesz (25 minutes) and Philip Jeck (45 minutes). Experimental live Cathedral organ works, documented to the highest level, including superb renditions of Jolivet [France], Gorécki [Poland], Alexandra [Romania] and Davidson [UK]. "St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, was the crucible of the Reformation in 1534.... The second release in the 'Spire' series [previous volume was: Spire - Organ Works Past Present & Future, from 2003] is more than a document of 'Spire Live', which took place as part of La Batie 2004, at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, on 5th September 2004. Curated by Eric Linder, from La Batie, and Mike Harding, the dynamism of the event, where the audience rotated between 3 separate venues within the cathedral precinct, is reflected in the individual recordings: Philip Jeck goes heavy metal in the crypt: BJNilsen comes over all moody in the side chapel, and Fennesz soothes and seduces in the same place. All this is set up by Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson on the main organ [4 manifolds, computer operated] which dominates the time and place. Davidson play Gorecki's extraordinary Kantata for organ, [full stops on max employed here] which segues into BJNilsen's ultra-heavy live organ and electronics next door. This follows Charles Matthew's excellent renditions of pieces by Jolivet and Alexandra which, as the text by Thierry Charollay says: 'The event seemed provoking and iconoclastic in contrast to severe and austere atmosphere of the cathedral. Though some of the musical pieces, thus modifying our perception of the cathedral and making the event truly exceptional.' And to finish, Fennesz soothed us with sound. His set evoked the rolling centuries in all their pain and beauty, leaving us at once be calmed and energised, but never oppressed under the weight of time."
The Milk Factory (UK):
This double CD release on Touch Tone presents a concert recording that follows on from 2004’s Spire – Organ Works Past, Present And Future. That release saw the likes of Toshiya Tsunoda, Biosphere and Chris Watson explore the role and potential of the organ. Five of the six pieces on this follow-up are performances of contemporary compositions by Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Liana Alexandra. The sequence is completed by probably the most well known of the composers on this disc, Henryk Gorecki. The music is striking, magical even, in its power and bracing stridency. It is occasionally reminiscent of Philip Glass’s works for the instrument, perhaps most famously Koyaanisqatsi. For anyone who has experienced an organ recital in a cathedral, it is clear that no recording could beat experiencing the music in the moment and physical space of the performance. However, the quality of this recording is impressive and at times it leaps out at the listener with a vigorous power. Interestingly, there is also a fair amount of ambient sounds: the reverberating clatter of footfalls, coughs and audience movement… Instead of proving to be irritatingly intrusive, these add a sense of life and clarity to the musical experience.
The final three pieces are performed by contemporary stars of the glitch/noise scenes; B.J. Nilsen, Philip Jeck and Fennesz, and are indicated as having taken place away from the nave in a side chapel and the crypt. Nilsen’s piece gradually builds into a buzzing miasma like a circular saw patiently slicing through the toughest of tree knots. As the sound mutates it becomes lost in a deep storm of white noise and becomes gravel falling down an endless scree slope. Halfway through the 30-minute piece, this cacophony dies away to reveal the sustained organ note that initiated proceedings. Five minutes later a new, keening note appears accompanied by an occasional clang like the hull of an ocean liner being hammered in dry-dock.
Philip Jeck’s 44-minute piece begins with warm, ululating tones pierced by what might just be (but probably isn’t) the whistling of a kettle on a stove. At the five-minute mark, the mesmerically building whirrs and tones build are repeatedly interrupted by the sample of a heavy metal riff that is played over and over again. Accompanied by a loop of a swelling organ chord, perhaps this is intended as comment upon the use of certain musics to impress the listener. Whatever, the effect is comic and strange, and as the layers of sound accumulate, the experience becomes increasingly claustrophobic and nightmare-like. At 16 minutes, the magisterial progression of the organ loop starts to stutter and fade, only to be supplanted by a sequence of descending chords which is recognisable from Jeck’s contribution to Live In Leuven, a trio recording with Jah Wobble and Jaki Liebezeit. It is soon subsumed by a clanking, peg-legged rhythm accompanied by organ that is both seething and constricted. Think Terminator 2 meets Nosferatu (in the crypt). Jeck’s piece feels cumulatively like both a sonic sculpture and a travelogue at whose heart is the roiling, screaming madness of the cathedral’s organ tones which are eventually tempered in the final few minutes by a sense of sympathetic absolution. Fennesz concludes proceedings with organ samples that are massaged at various rates to produce a warm river of sound, which is reminiscent of Steve Reich’s percussion instruments, only replaced with organ loops. The piece’s gentle fluidity is gorgeous to behold, its architecture perhaps mirroring that of the structure in which it was performed.
The Wire (UK):
This amazing album of cathedral organ music takes us to the cathedral, the side chapel and, for a particularly stormy recital, the crypt of this historical cathedral that was the center of The Reformation. This is the second document of a special 2004 event and includes performances by Marcus Davidson, BJNilsen, Philip Jeck, and Fennesz. The artists certainly do not feel bound by any austerity or conformity such a venue may seem to impart. The music is powerful and free, restrained and reflective depending on the performer and the location on his two-CD recording. [Tom Schulte]
In 2004, Touch's Mike Harding co-curated an concert at the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, inviting three of Touch's most creative artists -- Fennesz, BJ Nilsen, and Philip Jeck -- to perform live pieces based on the pipe organ found within that church. This double cd documents the live performances from that series of concerts which also featured contributions from the far more academically minded composer/performers Marcus Davidson and Charles Matthews. Spire: Live is actually the second compilation released by Touch based on works that in some way, shape, or form relate the unmistakeable timbre of organs. While the first Spire compilation focused on a dynamic minimalism extended from the ideas of Charlemagne Palestine, LaMonte Young, and Tony Conrad, Spire: Live is much more a dichotomy between Touch's abstractionists and the structuralist principles adopted by Davidson and Matthews. Nilsen smears a single monotone chord through a series of pitchshifting and timestretching filters offering a cybernetic mimesis of the organ's intrinsic sound. Fennesz suspends millions of pixel points within a digital fog of sound, occasionally allowing the organ to speak but mostly returning to bleary washes found on his 2004 album Venice. Philip Jeck is far more caustic than he's ever been before, with a locomotive clattering of his turntables growing darker and more volatile amidst a judicious sampling of AC/DC [no its not! - ed.]. Matthews and Davidson, however, both offer very straight renditions of classically derived organ compositions from Gorecki, Liana Alexandra, Andre Jolivet, and Davidson himself. Despite the similarity in source material, these pieces from Matthews and Davidson couldn't be further from the staple of Touch musicians, focusing on a polyphony of dissonant clusters of notes and almost random dodecophonic passages.
VITAL (The Netherlands):
Last year Touch finally realized their first double CD with works dealing with the king of instruments: the church organ. The only organ to show the right love of God, perhaps, but for some others also the instrument that brings on a massive drone, that perhaps can take the listener to different levels - in anyway. Many of the works on the first Spire CD were treatments in some way of organ like sounds, not just church organs, but also for instance a hammond organ. For the second Spire CD, again a lengthy double one, the church organ plays the central role. And an organ in one place, being the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, where all these pieces were recorded. Three groups were performed here. The first group of five pieces are by contemporary composers, such as Andre Jolivet, Liana Alexandra, Marcus Davidson and, perhaps, best known Henryk Gorecki. Here the massive density of the organ collides strongely on the walls of the church, but at the same time can move the listener to a more contemplative moment. Best this works in the piece by Gorecki, who works with both contrasts very well. The second group of works, being two in fact, is were the organ meets itself or other instruments. It meets itself in the piece by BJ Nilsen, who is playing around with sounds from the organ (such as the mechanism that sucks air into it) and electronical treatments thereof, in quite a shimmering and moody piece. In Philip Jeck's 'The Crypt', the organ meets the king of sound recording - that is what vinyl is to some - but the marriage is not always a fruitful one. The king of instruments is like a monarch, and doesn't allow rock records in it's kingdom. In the final piece the church organ is no longer touched, but forms the basic of perhaps Fennesz's most ambient moment. His computer treatments are very subtle, the soundmaterial can still be recognized but is also unmistakenly in the digital domain. Despite the fact that there are three different groups of works on this double CD, it is a well-succeeded compilation and the best is kept to the end - the twenty-five minute shimmer by Fennesz. [FdW]
Other Music (USA):
A concert based on Touch's multifarious organ themed compilation from last year, it's fitting that Spire takes place in a cathedral. This 2-CD compilation collects live recordings made on September 5, 2004, at the Geneva Cathedral, Saint Pierre. Touch regulars Hazard, Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz, as well as contemporary composers Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Lianna Alexandra and Henryk Gorecki, all contribute to this varied collection of recordings.
While this live installment of Spire takes a similarly diverse approach to the theme, as in the original compilation, it's the use of organ that ties all of these pieces together. Disc-1 begins with a series of more overtly traditional approaches to the organ. Marcus Davidson utilizes dense and somewhat menacing chordal patterns in the opening two compositions while Andre Jolivet alternates between a sporadic flurry of notes in his homage to the universe. Liana Alexandra contributes a repetitive dirge-like piece while Henry Gorecki explores the full range of the church organ before settling into a solemn exploration of bass frequencies. Aside from the Gorecki piece, most of these contributions are a bit too stifled by traditional structures; but it's the way in which the organ fully resonates the cathedral's acoustics that makes these recordings so seductive.
The final track on disc-1, by Hazard, begins what the booklet refers to as "Phase Two: The Deconstruction Phase." Moving back and forth from organ to electronics, BJ Nilsen (aka Hazard) slowly layers overdriven sampled organ notes into dark physical masses of monolithic sound. Like the calm after a storm, the notes hover ominously along the horizon while the hum of electricity alternates in the foreground. Disc-2 continues "The Deconstruction Phase" with noir turntablist Philip Jeck coaxing the remnants of music from his vinyl detritus. Jeck gradually folds one organ note into another for the first few minutes only to bring in a rather jarring and discordant loop of rock music that awkwardly develops into a somewhat rhythmic theme. This is a much more plunderphonic approach than I would usually attribute to Jeck. While the piece does coalesce somewhat over the course of its 44-minutes, the listener gets lost in the heavy handedness of the source material rather than what Jeck chooses to do with it.
The final piece, by Christian Fennesz, begins "Phase Three: The Reconstruction Phase." A fitting finale to the evening as well as compilation, Fennesz is rarely one to disappoint and he certainly doesn't do so here. Contributing by far the most uplifting interpretation in the series, he combines electronics with sampled organ sounds in a serenely beautiful nod to the organ's past and perhaps its future. While many of the other contributors chose to explore the full range of the organ, Fennesz's strength here is in his restraint, focusing on long extended notes rather than the dense chords that permeate most of the other pieces here.
While I imagine hearing this in the actual cathedral would have been a much more sonically impressive experience, this live installment of Spire is an intriguing document of a historically minded event. Includes extensive liner notes and beautifully printed oversize sleeve. [KH]
Almost Cool (USA):
It is true that I was a bit rough on Spire: Organ Works Past Present & Future.
For starters, a good portion of the work on this release is actual, straightforward organ music by composers such as Marcus Davidson and Henryk Gorecki. In one of the great strokes of musical luck in my life, I managed to get to hear an organ concert that was given in Köln's Dom Kirche while there several years ago. It was easily one of the most moving musical performances that I've ever heard, and it gave me a much greater idea of the power of the instrument when played in such a massive structure. I think many people don't realize the expressive power of a massive pipe organ, but it's easy to become a believer after hearing one in such a setting. Along these same lines, all of the recordings on this newest Spire compilation (both straightforward organ pieces and electronicly-enhanced ones) were recorded live in the Geneva Cathedral and although it's certainly no substitue for being there in person, the recordings breath with a life that only enhances their quality.
Once again, the release is spread out over the course of two discs (containing almost two and a half hours worth of music), but as mentioned above, this time the setup is different. The first forty minutes of the first disc is taken up with five different pieces for organ, and the variety of them gives one a good idea of the range of expression the instrument truly has. The opening "Opposites Attract" by Marcus Davidson moves as the title somewhat suggests, playing back and forth between loud, majestic moments and quieter, more playful ones (as if the two sides of the piece are courting one another). "Hymne à l'Universe" by André Jolivet also starts out with lower rumblings, but morphs into something more lyrical while Henryk Gorécki's "Kantana For Organ Op. 26" works in almost an opposite direction, opening with waves of fury before settling into a minimal, dark middle section and finally attacking with the same ferocity at the end.
After the first five tracks, the compilation completely changes gears, moving into the electronic reworkings of organ pieces, and it's BJ Nilsen that fills up the rest of the first disc with a piece performed in the smaller chapel. At the start of the piece, one can hear the milling about of the audience, even a person coughing, and it actually lends itself to the development of the track as soon it moves into deep, dark registers and swallows up every outside sound source with it's reverberated rumblings. Nilsen plays both electronics (mainly one-note samples organ sounds) and actual organ on the piece, and it works quite well. About one-third of the way through the track, the whole things sounds like it's swallowing itself as a sharp-edge sears through the soft undulating folds of sound before again receding. The latter half of the track again calms and one can hear the stirring of audience members again while Nilsen plays droning notes on an organ and single cracks of noise break through the drone and reverberate into the distance. As a whole, it's a smidge overlong, but it's a great study in dynamics and one of the better pieces I've ever heard from Nilsen.
For longtime fans of the Touch label, it's the second disc that will get them most excited, and it's because there are epic new tracks from both Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz. Jeck turns in a nearly forty-five minute piece recorded in an archeological site below the cathedral, and it's as dark as one might suspect, swimming along through dark undercurrents of warbling loops as lonely shapes burst through and the whole thing progresses towards some dark conclusion. Before dissolving into a finale of rather gorgeous shimmering, the track even lets a few riffs of what sounds to be death metal creep through. Not to be outdone, Fennesz offers up the nearly twenty-five minute piece (also recorded in the small chapel) that drifts with a warm Eno-esque haze of micro-sounds that is only once punctured with the sharp edge of glitched-out noise. The closing 10 minutes of the piece are among some of the more beautiful work that I've heard him create.
All in all, Spire: Live In Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre is many steps beyond the first compilation in the series both in thought and actual output. The instrument itself is given a chance to shine on the opening tracks of the first disc, and while none of the pieces are among my favorites in terms of organ music, they set the groundwork well for the electronic pieces that follow, all of which seem to have more reverence towards the actual instrument than anything on the first compilation. Perhaps at least some of the power of the pieces can be attributed to the warm, soft reverb of the cathedral in which they were performed as well. Downright magical in places, this is one you'll want.
Judging from the 145 minutes spread across this two-disc live document, the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva must have been a remarkable place to be on September 5, 2004. Extending last year's premiere Spire outing into a live context, pieces by contemporary composers Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Lianna Alexandra, and Henryk Gorécki are performed alongside three ambitious works by Touch mainstays BJ Nilsen (aka Hazard), Philip Jeck, and Christian Fennesz. Consequently, the release includes more traditional approaches (performed in the main cathedral hall) and three radical reimaginings.
Charles Matthews plays the cathedral's main organ on the opening four pieces. Loud, dramatic chords that suggest the immense grandeur and sonic resonance of the cathedral setting alternate with quieter passages in Marcus Davidson's aptly titled “Opposites Attract.” In André Jolivet's “Hymne à l'universe,” a celebration of the universe's stars, planets, suns, and galaxies, bold flurries and menacing chords tangle, suggesting questions posed without answers, followed by dancing, Glass-like patterns in Liana Alexandra's “Consonances lll.” Davidson himself plays Henryk Gorécki's “Kantata for Organ” (op. 26) where crushing smears contrast with solemn episodes.
Moving back and forth between organ and electronics, BJ Nilsen's half-hour “Live in la petite chapelle” initiates the event's second, “deconstruction” phase. The familiar glistening tones of the organ are audible throughout, though sometimes smothered by a cavernous mass. As one might expect, the piece develops slowly: at the eight-minute mark, it's a grinding, wave-like roar; in its closing third, a drone duet of wavering electrical hum and organ with the latter dominating in the piece's final moments.
Philip Jeck's performs his 45-minute “Live in the Crypt” in the archeological site underneath the cathedral, as if exhuming the history of recording through his vinyl material. He initially generates a loud, tactile mass of organ, crackles, and hiss and then adds jarring poundings of heavy metal. After that subsides, the organ swims within a morphing, rippling miasma of blurry themes; at one point, he even audaciously inserts religious recitations. Of all the pieces, Jeck's is the most disturbing, a disorienting hallucination brought to harrowing life.
Fennesz's transcendent, twenty-five minute “Live in la petite chapelle” presents the concert's final, “reconstruction” phase. Diametric in spirit to Jeck's epic, the closer's merging of organ sounds with electronics soothes with towering fields of crystalline shimmer and spectral starbursts. Naturally the live setting imposes itself as a factor. During quieter moments, ambient sounds (shuffling, rustling, coughs) within the space are audible and, though typically such intrusions are unwelcome, here they lend a human dimension to what might otherwise sound excessively austere. Though the recording deliberately presents electronics as the organ's 'successor,' electronics also breathe new life into it; astutely, liner notes clarify that “successor does not mean replacement.” Ultimately, it's the majestic sound of the organ, so steeped in centuries of tradition, that one remembers above all else. [Ron Schepper]
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
Die Elektronik als moderne Form der Vox Dei zu sehen, mutet im ersten Moment etwas gewagt an. Aber das SPIRE-Projekt basiert auf diesem Gedanken, zuerst bei Organ Works Past Present & Future (Touch Tone 20) und nun mit Live in Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre (Touch Tone 21). In diesem seit Calvin unter reformierter Flagge segelnden Himmelsschiff aus dem 12. Jhdt. fand am 5.9.2004 ein Konzertereignis statt, das erst die Orgel selbst und dann verschiedene Formen, ihren Klang zu dekonstruieren und mit neuem Leben zu erfüllen, zu Gehör brachte. Der Orgelklang entfaltete sich dabei im Hauptschiff, in dem Charles Matthews zuerst mit ‚Opposites Attract‘ & ‚Psalm for Organ 3‘ zwei Orgelstücke von Marcus Davidson spielte, gefolgt von André Jolivets prächtiger ‚Hymne à l‘Univers‘ und den weit minimalistischer angelegten ‚Consonances III‘ der Rumänin Liana Alexandra. Die konstruktive Phase gipfelte in der, nun von Davidson gespielten, martialischen und pathetischen ‚Kantata for organ Op.26‘ des Polen Henryk Gorécki, in der bereits mit den ersten Akkorden mit immer neuen Clustern ein erschütterndes Klangbeben gegen die gothischen Schallmauern anbrandete. Danach konnten nicht mal Schwerhörige behaupten, sie hätten vom Donnerwort aus der Chefetage nichts mitbekommen. Die eher subversive Strategie der Dekonstrukteure zeigte sich danach schon in der Wahl eines intimeren, auf Menschenmaß zugeschnittenen Raumes, der Petite Chapelle, auch Chapelle des Macchabées genannt. Dort webte BJNilsen mit seinen ‚Rues Basses‘ ein feines elektronisches Gespinst aus Orgelsamples, das die einschüchternde Monumentalität des Orgelsounds bis auf den bloßen Kern aus Drones und Nebengeräuschen abschabte, die den Raum öffneten, dass der Wind freie Bahn hatte und dann transformierten zu einem Maschienenraum, in dem pulsierend ein Dynamo Kraftwellen aussandte. Fetzen von Orgelresten im Hintergrund zeichneten eine dünne Verbindungslinie von der offenen zur Industrielandschaft. Philip Jeck stieg dann sogar in die unterirdische Krypta hinab, in Grab, Kellerloch und Underground, um quasi archäologisch und historisch in verschütteten Klangschichten zu graben. Vinylscherben sind das Leitfossil des knapp dreiviertelstündigen ‚The Crypt‘, aus dem Jeck eingegrabene Erinnerungen von profanen und Schatten und Reste von sakralen Klangspuren kratzte. Wabernde Orgeldrones werden durchstoßen von Rockriffs, gewellte Monotonie loopt sich durch Raum und Dunkelheit, die gerade Leiter nach ‚oben‘ krümmt sich zu einer knirschenden Tretmühle, zur stampfenden Maschine, während die Orgel permanent Opium streut: And when I die before I wake / I pray to Lord my soul to take. Ob sich Wozencrofts Fotos von Schafen und Grabsteinen von daher entschlüsseln lassen? Den dritten Schritt machte dann Fennesz wieder in der Petite Chapelle mit ‚Morning‘, indem er Orgelsounds und Elektronik zu einer sublimen Apotheose synthetisierte, zu einem dröhnminimalistischen, harmonisch schillernden Konstrukt von etwas, das mal ‚blaue Stunde‘ hieß. [Rigobert Dittmann]
All Music Guide (USA):
Organ Works Past, Present & Future". The project featured the church organ (or various conceptions of the church organ) in all kinds of natural and processed settings. On September 5 of that year, a concert event was held at St. Peter's Cathedral in Geneva. The first part of the program consisted of a set of acoustic church organ pieces performed by (Charles Matthews) and (Marcus Davidson). The latter's (Opposites Attract) opens the album with majestic chords. The piece is a bit pompous but also striking and resolutely modern. (André Jolivet's) "Hymne à l¹Univers" tightrope-walks between chaos and order. (Henryk Gorécki's) "Kantata for Organ"is an orgiastic organ fest, ferocious and brutal. All these works explore the grandiose aspect of the instrument, its power and its spirituality. Afterwards, (BJNilsen) (once known as (Hazard) performed a 30-minute set in the Small Chapel, shifting back and forth between organ and computer. The piece is ethereal, dreamy, slightly lacking in focus yet interesting in its deconstruction of the organ sound¹s defining elements. Disc 2 begins with a riveting 45-minute set by (Philip Jeck) who, playing in the crypt underneath the cathedral, combined all kinds of organ sources on vinyl, from liturgy to rock and beyond, to create a shocking piece of music. Significantly cruder than what can be heard on his previous 'Touch' release (the disappointing "7"), this marathon work takes us back to his"Vinyl Coda" days. (Fennesz) closed the event with a delicate 25-minute set back at the Small Chapel, opting for spirituality and elevation. On first listen, his shimmering tones represent the farthest step away from the organ, but the introspection they express evokes the peace and quiet of a deserted church. The packaging (wallet-style) is again beautiful and this album is overall better (more cohesive) than the previous "Spire" compilation. And the long sets by Nilsen, Jeck and Fennesz are enough to satisfy fans of either three. [François Couture]
Un laboratoire sonore à la cathédrale
Un double album habille l'orgue de Saint-Pierre de couleurs contemporaines.
« Spire ». C'était le 5 septembre 2004, dans le cadre du Festival de la Bâtie. La cathédrale Saint-Pierre se voyait transformée une soirée durant en laboratoire sonore. Avec en guise d'éprouvettes, les tuyaux du grand orgue. Et dans les habits du chercheur, plusieurs musiciens de la scène expérimentale électronique.
Quelques mois plus tard, l'événement se retrouve sur un double CD du label Touch. On y assiste à une dissection des possibilités de l'orgue. Maître d'oeuvre du projet et membre du duo d'électroambient Atoll, le Genevois Thierry Charollais explique: « Lors de ce concert, l'instrument électronique va d'abord casser le son d'orgue, avant de lui donner une nouvelle vie, basée sur une transcendance et une hauteur nouvelles. »
Dans la première partie, plus traditionnelle, les organistes Marcus Davidson et Charles Matthews jouent Davidson, Jolivet, Alexandra et Gorecki. Contraste total avec la suite. BJ Nilsen, Philip Jeck ou Fennesz déploient leurs savantes alchimies électroniques dans la chapelle des Macchabées ou dans le site archéologique sous la cathédrale. De cette joute entre les machines des hommes et l'instrument de Dieu naît une poésie du son très particulière, à la fois d'aujourd'hui et de toute éternité. [Luca Sabbatini]
Le Temps (Switzerland):
L'an passé, le festival La Bâtie, à Genève, s'était associé à l'excellent label anglais Touch pour une soirée centrée sur le roi des instruments, l'orgue. Le magnifique outil de la cathédrale Saint-Pierre fut ainsi de longues heures durant l'attention de deux séries de musiciens: des organistes classiques (Charles Matthews et Marcus Davidson) d'une part, des expérimentateurs électroniques de l'autre (BJ Nilsen, Philip Jeck, et Christian Fennesz). But de l'expérience: rappeler aux auditeurs la puissance et la richesse des textures de l'orgue, et les pousser au-delà de leurs limites naturelles par le biais du traitement informatique. Une problématique somme toute très naturelle, tant les registres de l'orgue rappellent, par leur fonction sinon par leur mécanisme, l'utilisation contemporaine des banques de sons. Ce fut une réussite, et la mise à disposition de cette expérience s'avère un excellent choix éditorial. De bonnes surprises parsèment le programme d'œuvres classiques, comme ces «Consonances III» au minimalisme distingué, de la compositrice roumaine Liana Alexandra. C'est toutefois au moment de laisser la voix aux électroniciens que s'annoncent les meilleurs moments: BJ Nilsen construit un assemblage de drones étouffants; Philip Jeck, iconoclaste comme à son habitude, met en scène un foutoir organisé de bourdons et de boucles volées sur des vinyles épars. C'est toutefois avec Christian Fennesz que l'expérience mène vers les sommets: le lyrisme coutumier de l'Autrichien fait merveille dans une pièce qui sublime l'œuvre de Jean-Sébastien Bach en une longue averse de cristal. [Philippe Simon]
Dagens Nyhater (Sweden):
GENÉVE. Brutala samplingar ger hopp i kyrkorum
Var röken svart eller vit efter den auditiva dekonstruktionen av Sankt
Peterskatedralen i Genève i september förra året? En organist och tre av Europas främsta electronica-artister hade gjort sprickor i muren och fått stenen att lätta. Nu har dokumentationen av denna dramatiska performance kommit på en dubbel-cd, "Spire" (Touch/dotshop.se), som omfattar nära tre timmars musik. Sankt Peters-katedralen är från 1100-talet och är mest känd som sätet för 1500-talsreformatorn Jean Calvins fanatiskt stränga religiösa och politiska visioner. Den har alltså ett och annat på sitt samvete. Den dekonstruerande konserten går också grundligt, närmast rituellt, till väga när den förflyttar sig från kyrkorum till kyrkorum. Efter Jolivets hänförande "Hymne à l#Universe" och en orgelkantat av Gorecki går klangen under jord med BJ Nilsens brutala samplingar. En separation och ett förfrämligande som följs av ett karnevaliskt tumult i Philip Jecks subversiva scratchkonster och som ändar med en omskakande återfödelse och försoning i Fennesz elektroniska orgeloceanism. Förmodligen var röken i Genève orange, överlevandets färg. För visst är det något stort i att det alltid finns hopp, till och med för katedraler. [Martin Nyström]
Das NetzMagazin (Switzerland):
Man muss ein Virtuose sein, um sie zu beherrschen. Ihre brachiale Klanggewalt, die jedem Christen durch Mark und Bein fährt, ihr riesiges Klangspektrum und ihre Masse machen die Kirchenorgel zur Königin aller Instrumente - und dafür kann man sie hassen oder lieben. Meine letzte Begegnung mit ihrer Majestät war keineswegs in der Kirche, sondern ein DJ Shadow Stück und das war eigentlich auch mit katholizistisch gefärbter Kindheit leicht verdaulich. Und nun also dies, ein zweistündiges Orgelkonzert, aufgenommen in einer Genfer Kathedrale aus dem 12. Jahrhundert. Schwere, sinistre Kost.
Gespielt werden Orgelkompositionen aus der Vergangenheit, der Gegenwart und der Zukunft. Auf der ersten CD werden Stücke von Jolivet, Gorécki und anderen klassischen bis modernen Komponisten gespielt und auf der zweiten verfremden Philipp Jeck und Fennesz die Orgelklänge mit elektronischen Mitteln. Was für die Glücklichen, die in Genf gebannt in den Kirchenbänken sassen, eindrücklich gewesen sein muss, ist trotzdem wohl nichts, das ich mir diesen Sommer anhören werde. Vielleicht dann mal im Winter. [Ralph Hofbauer]
Nouvelle série thématique du label Touch, Spire permet de (re)découvrir des écritures classiques contemporaines et électroniques pour orgue à l'occasion de concerts itinérants et de programmes variés. Cet enregistrement, deuxième volume de Spire après un premier opus studio très réussi, réalisé à la Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Genève, propose pour le premier volet CD sous-titré dans les notes du livret « phase de structuration », deux pièces délicates de Marcus Davidson, organiste et compositeur britannique raffiné, André Jolivet et son Hymne à l'univers, les Consonances III de la compositrice roumaine Liana Alexandra, subtilement tourmentées, une cantate apocalyptique Henryk Goréki et une création « électrorganistique » de BJ Nilsen, un des nouveaux protégés de l'élégante écurie éléctro-paysagiste Touch, qui métamorphose très lentement, pendant 30 minutes, la matière de l'orgue pour aboutir à un monochrome vibrant. Le second CD ou « phase de déstructuration » propose des traitements électro-ambient de Christian Fennesz et DJ-organiques avec Philip Jeck. Ce dernier nous entraîne dans ses boucles vyniliques enregistrées dans une crypte comme dans le halo d'un organiste sous héroïne élévatrice mais sur la longueur (42 minutes), il nous perd dans son labyrinthe sans fin tandis que Morning de Fennesz niché dans la petite chapelle, se lève doucement comme une bonne journée printanière jusqu'à rendre irréelle le temps devenu somptueusement aérien. Une ode inspirée à la diversité du « roi des instruments.
The thought of producing a compilation where the tracks were all either inspired by or more directly influenced by the organ had been frequently aired over the years. The conversations were always animated and expansive. The organ works of Arvo Pärt, those performed by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, a pupil of Richard Rodney Bennett at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and others, have reached a wider non-classical audience. Eventually Benny Nilsen arranged to visit St. Mary's Church, Warwick and work with one of England's finest, Charles Matthews. Crawling around inside the instrument, positioning microphones most appropriately in the Church, or 'capturing' the psalms composed by Marcus Davidson, Nilsen explored the possibilities with all the familiar lust of the avant-garde. As the brief widened, so did the responses... some contributors referred to earlier versions of the organ and its often highly political usage, others explored aged instruments themselves. Some studied the effects of the sounds produced on the physique and the psyche, others conceptualized the brief and either built their own or recorded natural or man-made phenomena which utilized the same basic process, wind through pipes. The organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualized space. It is impossible not to be drawn upward, towards the spire of the church or cathedral, or to the huge and daunting forest of pipes themselves. The organ dwarfs all comers, and unlike other instruments, it is this non-musical element which makes the organ stand apart.
The Sound Projector (UK):
Only a two-CD set? This compilation feels even grander in scope that that somehow, attributable perhaps not just to the quantity and variety of music, but also to the depth and scope of the ideas it strives to convey. It’s all organ music, mostly music played on the church organ where available, although other organs (Hammonds, for example, or even hand-made instruments similar to organs) are permissible; and so are ideas about organs, and soundworks that use air, because air is what makes a church organ work in the first place…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The comp features names drawn from the current roster of artists signed to the Touch label, plus guest names, and long-standing associates such as Leif Elggren who also supplied assistance from the EMS Studio in Stockholm.
Touch label boss Mike Harding has a history of ‘themed’ samplers, going back to the Touch Travel cassettes of the mid-1980s and recent CDs released in the 1990s, oblique statements that survey the state of the world and report back through music, sound-art, and mini-essays. He continues to credit his audience with intelligence, and a hunger for ideas. Harding had been thinking about an organ compilation for some time, drawing up in his mind a wide-ranging brief that would encompass music played on that instrument, or music inspired by it, or even simply influenced by it. The finished comp displays a wide variety of interpretations, and/or solutions to the brief…playing an actual church organ, or recording it in imaginative ways, or even investigating the effects of its sounds on the human psyche.
In the condensed texts provided, Harding delivers up a potted history of said instrument, while not hesitating to get in a few digs at the established church, and indeed the organ’s ‘highly political uses’; the latter is illustrated by Leif Elggren’s track, but it seems that the whole compilation has an agenda that posits this far-from-humble instrument squarely within the bounds of ‘the establishment’. True, the organ is an expensive instrument, therefore usually built exclusively in ‘establishment’ places associated with lots of money, like churches, cathedrals, town halls, universities and such like; but then again, you could say the same about early electronic instruments. There’s one line of thought that says early moogs and instruments for computer music were ‘co-opted’ by universities and academic music establishments (they were, at first, the only places who could afford to buy them), effectively ensuring that most music production in this area was limited, expensive, and elitist. Does that mean the moog also has ‘highly political uses?’ Well, apparently not in this case. Without that elitist infrastructure creating a foundation for experimental electronic music, I’d venture to say that over half of the musicians on this comp wouldn’t be where they are today.
The diversity of the comp is more than reflected in the notes provided by each artiste to accompany their submission. Thankfully, these aren’t too detailed. Some of them are bolstered with scads of information – most of it useless statistical facts, and based on the Internet – which doesn’t tell you much at all about the music. Often, this is a way to add legitimacy to an undernourished idea, When I read these condensed packets of data, I sometimes feel we’re being invited to applaud the ‘cleverness’ of the artist, rather than the music. Z’EV’s approach was to download a .wav file from an organ music website, and combine it with some factual medical data about the effect of sound on human organs. This, he tells us, was based on simple Google searches. Well, clever old Z’EV.
These misgivings aside, the music is all great. I particularly like the two pieces played by Charles Matthews, a genuine church organist. Two ‘straight’ pieces of beautiful music were captured by B J Nilsen and appear on disc one; these are probably the most conventional pieces on Spire. To me they sound amazing. That’s my tastes for you. Nilsen does something more clever with these Matthews recordings on disc two, with ‘Breathe’. Ostensibly another recording of Matthews playing the instrument, but where is he? All we hear is air, and vague chattering sounds…it’s all to do with where Nilsen places his microphones. Nilsen’s experiments, some of which involved crawling into those parts of an organ where man should not visit, seem to have formed the core of the Spire project. A real standout piece, ‘Breathe’ is scary, effective, pleasant, musical, awesome…
Other impressive and interesting musical performances come from Tom Recchion and Lary Seven. Recchion plays a spectral piece which is close to the microtonal orchestral works of Ligeti, and reminds one of certain well-known cinematic moon-travel images. Lary Seven worked with Jeff Peterson to record the sound of an old organ in an old chapel in old America…preoccupied with ‘oldness’, they used bad equipment and then played back their recorded sounds in the same chapel, with organ sounding again…the entire tape-work construction has a delightful wobbly, pre-aged effect. Scott Taylor also does a process-based piece, but his is nowhere near as interesting.
The sound of the organ for its own sake is worth exploring. Fennesz and Scott Minor (of Sparklehorse) do just that, wallowing in a Wurlitzer’s warbles, feeding them through filters and distortion. Their contribution is massively enjoyable. Biosphere plays ‘Visible Invisible’, and reminds one of Klaus Schulze seated behind banks of keyboards in 1972. A bit too tasteful this one. Oren Ambarchi brings in the Hammond organ, but also (mostly) guitars, his chosen instrument. Good music, but personally I’d have disqualified him for departing too far from the theme!
If subversive ideas are of interest, listen to F Petursson, who makes various profound points about art, ideology and religion, questioning our conditioning about acceptance of conventional notions of ‘beauty’. It comes from a crafted art installation, a big tunnel sculpture which tapers up to end in an organ pipe. The sound of his ‘Diablous’ is a very effective and menacing deep bass drone. Leif Elggren continues to exhibit his obsession with royalty, and with politics; quite how his organ piece will bring the King of Sweden to his knees isn’t made clear, but it sounds marvellous and is a strong opener to the set.
But what is an organ but air passing through cylindrical tubes? Just ask S B Sigmarsson, whose piece is simply a tuneless humming sound created by currents of air through huge pipes. Or Toshiya Tsunoda, the Japanese field-recordist whose work to date prominently features the sound of wind passing over pipes or through pipes. So he’s an obvious choice…and he does his thing here, to highly pleasing effect. Then, to close down the set, there’s Chris Watson, environmental documenter extraordinaire, with his ‘Askam Wind Cluster’. Nothing but the sound of the wind itself, no pipes even. If Harding were to compile a drum-themed collection next, presumably Watson would be commissioned to record the sound of an animal being flayed to make a drum skin.
Also here: Philip Jeck (the great), with a surprisingly ordinary piece by his standards; and Jacob Kirkegaard, with enchanting miniature samples of organ works by an earlier composer namesake of his. Dreamy, time-travel episodes. In all Spire is a winner; it successfully rethinks the sound of the organ in many varied ways, all of which repay listening and relistening; and the package conveys many new concepts also, even if some appear a little pretentious. But we all need to aspire to something greater. [Ed Pinsent]
Certainly Arvo Pärt is partially responsible for re-igniting broader appreciation of the organ’s relevance as a contemporary instrument. To cite one example, ‘Pari Intervallo,’ performed by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, offers some of the most affecting moments on 1987’s Arbos, and Bowers-Broadbent later recorded lovely versions of Górecki’s ‘O Domina Nostra’ and Bryars’ ‘The Black River.’ Years prior to these works, Steve Reich brought a memorable slant to the instrument with ‘Four Organs,’ while Philip Glass has also prominently emphasized organ playing in his pieces. Of these works, it’s Pärt’s ‘holy minimalism’ that most strongly reinforces the organ’s ties to the church, but, as Mike Harding points out in Spire’s liner notes, the organ didn’t have that religious association during its first thousand years of use. Its eventual embrace by religious authorities partly stemmed from their recognition of its sonic power and potential for audience manipulation. The organ is further distinguished by the fact that it’s one of the first ‘mechanical’ instruments, based as it is on the principle of wind blown through pipes.
Spire represents a bold attempt by Touch to re-think the instrument’s possibilities, and while the label doesn’t entirely reinvent conventional organ-related practices, it certainly acts as a midwife to some extreme sonic re-imaginings of them. Its two discs total 105 minutes and feature seventeen tracks “inspired or more directly influenced” by the organ, with the shortest forty-six seconds and the longest almost twenty-seven minutes. The collection features familiar roster artists like Biosphere, Philip Jeck, Benny Nilsen (Hazard), and Chris Watson along with new contributors like US composer Tom Recchion and Iceland’s Finnbogi Pétursson and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson. Some artists hew closely to familiar organ sounds but compositionally challenge conventions instated through centuries of church-based playing. Others deviate dramatically from any religious associations, wilfully liberating the organ from its familiar contexts. The Debussy quote (“The tall peaceful trees would be like the pipes of a great organ…”) within the accompanying booklet hints at the expansive breadth of the seventeen pieces. Some purposefully move outdoors, leaving the religious connection behind in favour of natural simulations of the organ’s inner workings. On ‘Layered,’ for example, Japanese field recordist Toshiya Tsunoda began by placing earphones that reproduce shortwave radio noise inside outdoor pipes. He then recorded the sounds and layered them, attempting thereby to make a chord using the different pitch sounds—an imaginative approximation of pipe air producing organ sounds. Over the course of ten minutes, Tsunoda fashions a dense sonic cluster that grinds and thrums like a seething cloud of insects and animals. Like Tsunoda, Chris Watson forms his piece, Spire’s closer ‘Askam Wind Cluster,’ from wind currents, too.
In fact, a quick inventory reveals that very few tracks present the organ in typical manner. Only classical composer Marcus Davidson’s ‘Organ Psalm V’ indulges in a familiar style of organ playing with grand chords and quieter passages alternating. A religious connection is here, with the piece inspired by the tradition of psalm singing and the organ acting as the supplicant to the almighty, with the last three organ chords chanting ‘domine.’ In contrast, many of the artists on Spire pursue more meditative strategies in their often drone-like pieces rather than familiar compositional approaches. With ‘Royal Organ,’ Leif Elggren creates a massive and churning (albeit brief) overture, a fitting approach given its inspiration, Swedish King Carolus XII (1682-1718). Z’EV’s piece, ‘if only that love lets letting happen (organ music for organs),’ originated from a Google search for ‘organ + sound’ which yielded two URLs, one that included Bach’s ‘Wenn Nur Den Lieben Gott Laesst Walten’ and the other a site outlining sound’s potential as a therapeutic agent. The resultant piece layers droning tones to hypnotic effect. At less than two minutes, Philip Jeck’s ‘Stops’ is a brief fragment whose single chord builds to a massive crescendo that’s so loudly pitched it loses its identity as an organ and becomes a pummeling wail of feedback. Sparklehorse’s Scott Minor and Fennesz collaborate on ‘Dwan,’ a shimmering drone which is recognizably Fennesz-like in the pairing of its fuzzy distortion with the familiar organ sound. Its aggressive opening segues into a gentler concluding section that recalls similar moods Fennesz conjured on Endless Summer. But like Jeck’s piece, at two-and-a-half minutes, it verges on being a mere fragment that ends before it can develop more extensively.
Other tracks might be categorized as ambient exercises. Finnbogi Pétursson’s ‘Diabolus’ offers tritone calm, while Biosphere’s ‘Visible Invisible’ is impressionistic and becalmed, its organ tones overlapping like restful waves. In some cases, the organ itself is hardly recognizable. Tom Recchion’s ‘Shut-Eye Train’ camouflages the organ by conjuring ghostly electronic echoes and light sprinkles of ambience, and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson’s ‘Details of a New Discovery’ features phantom noises blowing amidst subtle electronic whispers. Scott Taylor’s ‘Droner,’ on the other hand, sounds like some massive distorted drone of magnified rain showers that become explosive ruptures. At twenty-seven minutes, ‘Breathe’ by Benny Nilsen (aka Hazard) is the obvious epic of the bunch. To create the piece, Nilsen recorded organist Charles Matthews performing the psalms of Marcus Davidson at St. Mary’s Church in Warwick, England, and then processed the sounds using minimal means (volume, EQ, and multi-tracking). Its first minutes are spent simulating distant, thunderous rumblings, until an extended organ tone appears amidst quiet surges. The piece evolves into a meditative microsound exercise, as nearly sub-audible tones fluctuate about a louder drone that continues unabatedly. Only at the eighteen-minute mark does a recognizable organ chord begin a slow rise to the surface, and then grows into a larger crescendo before winding down. The piece serves as a representative example of the unconventional approaches Spire’s artists pursue as they offer convincing evidence of the organ’s contemporary relevance and its limitless possibilities. Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Compilations can be dodgy affairs, often half-baked ideas from compilers who can only garner throw away tracks from previous recordings. Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft of Touch have consistenty been the exception in their collections. The Touch Sampler series have long been outstanding compilations, and this newcollection of work inspired by or directly influenced by church organs continues in this tradition. Harding lucidly explains in the liner notes that "the organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualised space. It is impossible not to be drawn upward, towards the spire of the church or cathedral, or to the huge daunting forest of pipes themselves." On this compilation, the artists typically emphasize the transcendent expansiveness of sustained organ chords, in many ways emulating the polyphonic minimalism of Arvo Part's organ works. The track that best typifies the ideas behind Spire is that of BJ Nilsen, better known as Hazard. Having captured various recordings of Charles Matthews performing the psalms of Marcus Davidson on the organ at St. Mary's Church in Warwick, England, Nilsen processed these sounds with only multi-tracking, EQ, and volume at his disposal; thus, his track holds onto the rich tonalities of those church organs as he builds up to a majestic crescendo of overwhelming sound. Spire also features the first fruits of the collaboration between Sparklehorse and Fennesz (!), with Sparklehorse's drummer Scott Minor offering a smattering of mellotron and Wurlitzer samples for Fennesz to run through digital aesolization of bleary eyed distortion and fanciful detailing. Other contributors to Spire include Z'ev, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Philip Jeck, Leif Elggren, Zephyr, Marcus Davidson, Finnbogi Petursson, Biosphere, Toshiya Tsunoda, Tom Recchion, Lary Seven /Jeff Peterson, Scott Taylor, Jacob Kirkegaard, Oren Ambarchi, and the ever amazing Chris Watson! Very highly recommended.
Intuitive Music (Spain):
A musical observation that invites experimentation of the stirring power of the organ sound. In this beautiful proposal 17 artists have paid tribute to the organ in an exercise of minimalism that lets us surrender to the misterious effect of it's harmonic capabilty altering our state of consciousness. Featuring 2 CDs presented in a nice sleeve package with tracks from artists such as Chris Watson, Biosphere, Scott Taylor, Fennez, Philip Jeck, Marcus Davidson, Toshiya Tsunoda, Oren Ambarchiand Tom Recchion, Leif Elggren, Jacob Kirkegaard, BJ Nilsen, Finnbogi Petursson, Tom Recchion, Lary 7 and Jeff Peterson, S. Berg Sigmarsson, ZÉV, and Zephyr. An aural experience that everyone should live at least once in life. [Koldo Barroso]
VITAL (The Netherlands):
The sound of an organ appeals to many, and I mean not just those who are religiously inspired. It is also a fascinating instrument for drone music. It's a mighty fascinating instument to hear but also to see. This double CD compilation features works of classical nature as well as 'avant-garde' (for sake of a better term) for church organs in general and other sorts of organs (like a wurlitzer in the Fennesz track). Old acquitances are here, like Fennesz, Benny Nilsen, Oren Ambarchi, Chris Watson, Leif Elggren and Toshiya Tsunoda. However the more classical approaches come from a composition by Marcus Davidson and Zephyr. Mostly the music calls for contemplation and is somber in tone. Drone like characteristics throughout. The first disc, with twelve tracks in fifty some minutes is maybe too short to call for some (semi-) religious meditation, but nevertheless this has turned out be a highly varied disc with highly varied approaches. There are some louder beasts in here, which are not contemplative per se, like the pieces by Elggren and Philip Jeck. The second disc has only five tracks in about the same length and here the meditative character of the instrument works well. Nilsen's piece is one of haunting beauty - soft but well spoken. It takes up half the disc space, but it's timeless. Highlights of disc one are the quite classical piece by Z'ev, Marcus Davidson's 'Organ Psalm V', Scott Minor & Fennesz take on the rough edges of organ music, Biosphere's pastoral sounds and Toshiya Tsunoda's more conceptual approach to using the pipe of an organ. In all, this is highly suprising and fascinating pack of works and maybe the first highlight of the new year. (FdW)
Neptune Records (USA):
The organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualized space. It is impossible not to be drawn upward, towards the spire of the church or cathedral, or the huge daunting forest of pipes themselves. The organ dwarfs all comers, and unlike other instruments, it is this non-musical element which makes the organ stand apart. Some contributors referred to earlier versions of the organ and its often highly political usage, others explored aged instruments themselves. Some studied the effects of the sounds produced on the physique and the psyche, others conceptualized the brief and either built their own or recorded natural or man-made phenomena which utilized the same basic process, wind through pipes. 2 CDs worth of contributions from: Oren Ambarchi with Tom Recchion, Biosphere, Philip Jeck, Jacob Kirkegaard, Scott Minor with Fennesz, Chris Watson, Toshiya Tsunoda, Z'EV, Leif Elggren, BJ Nilsen, and more. Stunning artwork, oversized packaging, and detailed booklet, absolutely beautiful.
Pitchfork Media (USA):
In the liner notes of Spire: Organ Works Past, Present & Future, Touch's Mike Harding claims "It is impossible to overestimate the influence of the organ on the history of music and sound." Indeed, dating from before Christianity, the organ has undergone changes in both physical construction and musical importance. Today, many people probably think of churches as the best place to see and hear organs, but the instrument was at first rejected by Christian authorities for being too associated with secular music. In the Middle Ages, organs were first built into churches, though even then only to appease growing secular political powers. The instruments were soon built as part of the churches themselves, and anyone who has seen a particularly impressive organ towering over church patrons in an old cathedral can attest to their intimidating presence.
However, to connect this ancient instrument to modern music and sound design (as Touch appears to do with this compilation), you have to look at arguably the most important aspect of the organ: chiefly, it represents the first time man attempted to create music using mechanical means, and in the process allowed him to create music theretofore unimagined. The first Greek organs were powered by air pumped from pockets of pressure inside a bucket submerged in water. Thus, it became possible to perform music without ever having to take a breath. Furthermore, organs were soon able to emit tones beyond the range or volume of any traditional instrument. In short, almost every musical tool, piece of electronic equipment or software can be traced back to this thing. Viva la pertinence.
Spire is a collection of pieces "inspired or more directly influenced" by the organ, featuring a few Touch mainstays like Christian Fennesz, Philip Jeck and Biosphere, as well as actual organ composers like Marcus Davidson. In reality, very few of the tracks are actual organ performances. Most treat the instrument as merely a source, makingSpire something of a radical organ remix record. Step back a few and it also works as pure ambience-- the naturally rich, rounded tone of the organs played or sampled overwhelms any attempts to subvert it. However, the two-disc collection also acts as a rare look back among contemporary electronica composers and producers at their "roots." Perhaps the day when we think of our generation's electronic music as being part of the same canon as the organ's isn't far ahead.
Fennesz works with Sparklehorse's Scott Minor on "Dwan", a track they began working on while in residence at a Geneva festival. Performed on a distorted Wurlitzer organ, the track moves from static-ridden clusters to phased, melancholy progressions. At 21 D2 minutes, it ends far too quickly to really establish much mood, rather seeming like a quick summary instead of a finished piece. Similarly, Jeck's "Stops" is prefaced by a quote from famed French composer Olivier Messiaen, who contributed some of the most amazing music for organ of the 20th Century. In English, it reads, "Music does not express anything directly," and is a perfect preamble to the dense wall of distortion Jeck applies to his major chord. Messiaen's quote betrays his beliefs in musical impressionism by way of Debussy (who also gets a quote in the booklet), and suits the often mysterious qualities of Spire.
Biosphere's "Visible Invisible" is an original performance, and features the solemn tones of church organ as you might hear during a funeral Mass. He uses the instrument as a calming force, constructing the entirely uncluttered piece from overlapping consonances. It's the aural equivalent of faint blue and purple watercolors running together into a formless cushion. "Askam Wind Cluster", by erstwhile Cabaret Voltaire and Hafler Trio member Chris Watson, goes for the arch concept by forming his piece not from an actual organ, but from wind's convection currents, presumably acting in a similar way to air within the pipes of an organ. The rhythmic "beat" of currents demonstrates essentially pure ambience, and also a deceptively simple process of how organ music is produced.
Z'EV contributes "If Only That Love Lets Letting Happen (Organ Music for Organs)", composed from fragments of Bach's "Wenn Nur Den Lieben Gott Laesst Walten", and like Biosphere, creates sweet, mystic calm out of overlapping tones. This is a far cry from Icelandic composer Finnbogi Petursson's "Diabolus", wherein two subsonic organ tones create a "tritone" interval, at one time referred to by Church musicians as the "devil in music" due to its extreme dissonance. Well, that's the idea anyway; Petursson's piece mostly seems like low-level hum unless you really get up close to your speakers (at which time you may experience some light nausea!).
If you have zero interest in a bunch of guys playing with organs, Spire works about as well as any compilation featuring the same cast of characters would. Over time, Touch has left its brand on a whole school of sound design that takes into account classical and natural phenomena, so this set should at least be pretty cool for people already into their roster. Of course, you don't need any special appreciation of organ music to enjoy this, but it's sometimes reassuring to know the new kids still remember their basics. [Dominique Leone, January 12th, 2004]
Urban Mag (Belgium):
In de Vlaamse handelsstad Ieper niet ver van de markt vind je de prachtige en statige Sint-Maartenskathedraal, die de stad van ver in de omtrek overheerst. De kathedraal werd tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog nagenoeg volledig met de grond gelijkgemaakt, maar desondanks vind je er nog steeds één van de wonderen van de Vlaamse ambachtskunst. Binnenin vind je immers één van de machtigste kerkorgels ter wereld. Het goddelijke muziekinstrument beschikt niet alleen over een indrukwekkend arsenaal van zo'n 3000 windpijpen maar de mogelijkheden van het instrument zijn tevens schier onbegrensd. Atheïst als we zijn, kunnen we, als we even in de buurt zijn, het toch niet laten om even binnen te wippen en om ons te laten bedwelmen door de volle en organische sound van één van de rijkste instrumenten ter wereld. We hebben de laatste jaren ook meermaals nagedacht over de vele onbenutte, muzikale mogelijkheden van zo'n kerkorgel. Een gedachte, die gedeeld werd door labelbaas Mike Harding van Touch. Een project, dat zich toespitst op die verborgen en miskende kanten van het orgel, kan dan ook steeds op onze volle aandacht rekenen. De dubbel-cd 'Spire - Organ Works Past Present & Future' bevat een aantal orgelwerken van klassieke snit (Marcus Davidson en Zephyr) en een groot aantal experimentele orgelcomposities (Biosphere, Fennesz/Scott Minor, Philip Jeck, Chris Watson en vele anderen). Daarbij springt vooral de begintrack 'Breathe' van de tweede cd van de dubbelaar in het oor. Voor de opname van dat nummer kroop Benny Nilsen aka Hazard met zijn contactmicrofoons letterlijk tot diep in het orgel van de St. Mary's Church in Warwick, terwijl organist Marcus Davidson er psalmen op ten gehore bracht. Het resultaat is een speelse en luchtige deconstructie van de dreunende, brommende en hijgende keizer der instrumenten. [Peter Wullen]
I can think of no instrument capable of drones as complex, distinct, or primitive as those generated by the pipe organ. The experience of sitting below a great organ's clustered form, letting its breath wash the length of a cathedral, can be compared to viewing one of Rembrandt's late self-portraits, watching as each square-centimeter teems with an infinity of golden life, an inner millennium finding perfect equivalent in the sustained blast of an organ note. As if its textural prowess and sacred acoustics were not enough, the organ represents also a milestone in the mechanization of musical instruments, making it a prime target for this kind of tribute, a virtual who's-who of Touch's roster, some of the most recognizable names in electro-acoustic music, all willing to shed their respective skins and make some music created with, or inspired by, organ sounds. Thankfully, most everyone included manages to come at the pipes in a thoughtful and largely unique way, making Spire an endlessly interesting, if not always enjoyable compilation. The range of different approaches, which in many cases depart significantly from their composers' tested styles, proves both a blessing and a curse, where the sequencing of the two discs inevitably interferes with the enjoyment of the individual tracks. Many interesting pieces seem to end prematurely or appear dwarfed by the enormity or lavishness of their surroundings. The contributions of Philip Jeck and Leif Elggren, shorter tracks focusing on solitary, largely unadulterated organ blasts, fail to stand out among the longer, similarly fundamental or minimalist approaches of Biosphere and BJNilsen. Likewise, some of the more concept-oriented inclusions end up sounding much better on paper than on disc, one example being Finnbogi Pétursson's "Diabolus" in which the artist's homemade single-pipe organ creates a low-frequency tone interval that in Medieval times was referred to the "devil in music" but is barely audible here. In contrast, other loosely-conceptual works make for some of the best material, like Z'EV's woozy "If only that love let's letting happen," based entirely on samples of Bach's organ music found via a Google search, and Toshiya Tsunoda's ambient "Layered," produced by a homemade shortwave radio organ set outside on a midsummer night. Generally, tracks on the second disc make for the most enjoyable pieces because they are long enough to become thickly atmospheric, to fill the room with the same arresting, monumental calm that great cathedral organs produce. BJNilsen (aka Hazard) actually composed "Breathe" for performance at St. Mary's Church in Warwick England. The half-hour piece, a simple, unfolding drone spanning huge intervals on organs constructed as early as 1898, is one of Spire's most spare works and one of its most impressive. Other highlights from the disc include an Oren Ambarchi and Tom Recchion piece originally released on a limited IDEA 7"; it makes sense here because Recchion plays Hammond on the track, though it is admittedly more in line with Ambarchi's solo work that anything particularly "organ-inspired." Spire ends with new music from field recording guru Chris Watson whose wind recordings become an allegory identifying the organ with the elemental or divine act of harnessing the air, as well as associating the instrument with a image of majesty that seems wholly justified at the close of such a compilation. [Andrew Culler]
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
Dann doch lieber gleich das 'Himmelfahrtskommando' von Spire - Organ Works Past Present And Future (Touch Tone 20, 2xCD). Die Orgel als das Instrument, das nach den einleitenden Worten von Mike Harding die Hochzeit zwischen akustischer Komplexität und ritualisiertem Raum repräsentiert, gewinnt unter der Obhut von Leuten, bei denen man Affinitäten zur 'Kaiserin unter den Instrumenten' kaum vermutet hätte, eigene Reize und seltsame Dimensionen. Die bei Messiaen und Pärt noch mit religiösen Ober- und Untertönen aufrauschende, bei Palestine schon in eine Ästhetik des Erhabenen rückcodierte, bei Osso Exotico und Guionnet dann nur noch aus Soundpassion angeblasene ultimative Panflöte dient hier als Junggesellenwindmaschine für Leif Elggren, Z'EV, Philip Jeck, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Marcus Davidson, Scott Minor / Fennesz, Finnbogi Pétursson, Biosphere, Toshiya Tsunoda, Tom Recchion allein und im Duo mit Oren Ambarchi, Lary Seven & Jeff Peterson, BJNilsen, Scott Taylor, Jacob Kirkegaard und Chris Watson. Elggrens 'Royal Organ' nimmt mit einem knurrig überrauschten Trauermarsch Bezug auf den 1718 erschossenen Karl XII, den mythenumrankten König, dessen Kriegspolitik ein verarmtes und ausgelaugtes Schweden zurück ließ. Z'EV komprimiert ein Bach-Sample zu dröhnenden Chakra-Stufen. Mit einem noch monotoner prasselnden polychromen Cluster verbeugt sich Jeck vor Messiaen. Sigmarsson verfremdet bei seiner Entdeckung die 'Vox Dei' mit sublimen Haltetönen und den extremen Registern entlockten Vibrationen in ein atmosphärisches Rauschen, während Davidsons prächtiger 'Organ Psalm V' sich ganz der Tradition fügt. Die Kollaboration von Fennesz und Sparklehorse zeitigte einen rauhen, trautonium-gefilterten und distortionbox-verzerrten Wurlitzerdrone. Pétursson, Islands Vertreter auf der Biennale 2002 in Venedig, installierte einen 16 Meter langen Schlauch, in dem durch überlappende Sinustöne als Interferenzwelle von 17 Hz der 'Diabolus in musica' erklang, eine Anspielung auf das grundsätzlich Blasphemische im Abgesang der 'Noise Culture' auf die Harmonia Mundi. Geir Jenssen lässt mit simplen, pulsierenden Zweiklängen den Schleier der Maja erzittern. Tsunoda schichtet die Klänge einer durchzirpten Mittsommernacht mit Kurzwellensalat, den er durch Rohrstücke unterschiedlicher Länge geschickt hat, zu einem hitzigen Sieden, Knispeln und Hornissengesumm. Recchions 'Shut-Eye Train' evoziert eher Gitarren- als Orgelassiziationen. CD 1 schließt mit einem dröhnminimalistischen Soundexperiment von 1976, dem von Peterson & 7 in Realzeit organisierten Zusammenklang einer vollen Orgel mit dem Playback einzelner Pfeifen. CD 2 gehört zur Hälfte BJNilsens 'Breathe', ein sublimes Klangbeben, gespielt von Charles Matthew auf der Orgel der St. Mary's Church in Warwick, England, und im Studio lediglich durch Multilayering bearbeitet. Das Resultät lässt vermuten, dass schon der Originalklang selbst sich einem unkonventionellen Umgang mit dem Instrument verdankt. Taylors 'Drone', ein scharf 'singendes', quasi elektronisches Glissando, ist eine Hommage an den Griechen Ktesibios, der im 2. Jhdt. BC die Organa hydraulica erfand, ein Instrument, das erstmals Dauertöne möglich machte. Kirkegaards Beitrag 'Epiludio Patetico' ist ein Tribute an den dänischen Komponisten Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), einem der Romantik und dem Symbolismus zugeneigten Außenseiter im Mainstream der Moderne, und besteht ausschließlich aus bearbeiteten Samples seiner Musik. Recchion revisited wartet tatsächlich mit den Gitarrendrones von Ambarchi auf, die zusammen mit Hammondorgel, Tapeloops und Sampling die Spieluhrmelancholie von 'Remake' ins Ohr träufeln. Beim Weatherman & Zoologen Watson schließlich ertönt ausschließlich der Blasebalg eines Atlantischen Tiefs, ein von Sonnenenergie aufgewirbelter pulsierender Sphärenklang. Wenn sich bei "Spire" so etwas wie 'Frömmigkeit' abzeichnet, dann im Kniefall vor dem Throne of Drones. In all diesen dröhnminimalistischen Haltetönen scheint das "Verweile doch..." des alten Faust mitzuschwingen, eine latente Sehnsucht, das Ticken der Zeit abzuschalten, dafür den Atem nicht abreißen zu lassen, ein Perpetuum Mobile in Gang zu bringen, das Kontinuität sicher stellt.
Blow Up (Itay):
The mysterious fascination awakened by the sound of the pipe organ coming from the reverberating walls of an ancient cathedral is no longer a novelty either to the rock world or its influences. There are famous examples in the relatively recent past: Popol Vuh, Charlemange Palestine, David Marantha and his Osso Exotico, Arvo Part, just to mention a few and without including the classical composers of the past and present. This double CD from Touch with a beautiful wallet and designs as usual elegantly created by Jon Wozencroft adds a fruitful series of contribution to an instrument which is so mighty and historically important for reasons not simply musical. The Touch family comes to mind from the album collection: Philip Jeck, Chris Watson, Biosphere, Benny Nilsen-Hazard, naturally Fennesz who here anticipates the collaboration he has announced with Scott Minor-Sparklehorse. But there are also figures outside the canon such as Tom Recchion and Toshiya Tsunoda, perhaps the most audacious and bravest experiments with the organ in question. Tsunoda has simply placed within individual pipes an earphone which is capable of reproducing the quiet sound of radio waves, amplified only by the use of a microphone. Stratifying one sound after another is obtained with a multi track recorder. We are not without compositions with a more classical emphasis such as those of the composer Marcus Davidson or Jacob Kirkrgaard and Leif Elggren, suggestions of which are perceptively influenced Oren Ambarchi and Tom Recchion, by Scott Taylor and the same Chris Watson. It is however the magic of key, pedals, registers, stops, reverberation, and drones which for centuries has captured the attention of the ear to a sound which seems to bring together the complexity of an acoustic experience with in a ritualised space. It could be inevitable that some additional effects could come out of the spires of real and imaginary cathedrals resonating in space.]
Matiere Brut (France):
S´il est des compilations qui ne semblent être qu´une simple succession de morceaux de différents artistes sans aucun lien apparent, celles du label Touch peuvent s´enorgueillir d´avoir des concepts fort bien exploités. Spire n´échappe pas à cette règle puisque ce double cd est tout simplement dédié à l´orgue. On y retrouve les artistes familiers du label, comme Benny Nilsen (Hazard) - lequel a fait des enregistrements de Charles Matthews jouant les psaumes de Marcus Davidson sur l´orgue de l´église Sainte Marie de Warwick en Angleterre - Chris Watson, Oren Ambarchi, Fennesz, Biosphere, Philip Jeck... Des compositions "classiques" sont présentes comme celles de Marcus Davidson et Zephyr, mais un bon nombre de pièces sont cependant des expérimentations sonores à partir de sons d´orgues plus ou moins reconnaissables. La plupart des invités de cette compilation donnent une interprétation très ambient, où les drones ont la place principale dans les compositions. Une mention spéciale est à décerner à BJ Nilsen pour l´exceptionnelle pièce de 27 minutes qu´il a réalisée seulement en jouant sur l´égalisation, le volume et la superposition d´enregistrements de sons d´orgues. Bien sûr, nous ne sommes pas en reste avec les autres plages des deux CD, comme par exemple la relaxante pièce de Tom Recchion, avec ses nappes fantômatiques, ou encore celle aux forts accents élémentaires (eau puis vent) de Scott Taylor qui relate dans le livret l'invention du premier orgue par le Grec Ctsibios en 300 avant J.C. Spire contribue à repenser les possibilités sonores de cet instrument - que l´on pourrait croire à tort dévoué à la cause religieuse - et s´avère être une belle réssite. [Yann Hascoet]