Michael Pisaro (performed by Cristián Alvear Montecino) - Melody, Silence (Potlatch)

Purchase Melody, Silence here

About four minutes into Melody, Silence, Cristián Alvear plays a chord on his guitar and it resonates accordingly. What isn’t immediately perceptible, however, is that the resulting hum is from both the guitar and a sine tone. The tone then extends for nine minutes before leading into another passage of sparse guitar plucks. What once seemed clear in the record’s first passage is now ambiguous: are there sine tones here? Is this going to be the final note of the section? That there exists any sense of mystery within this skeletal composition comprised of sine tones, guitar, and silence is a testament to its understated beauty. Funny enough, this five minute piece only segues into one with silence. But in the careful examination of each plucked note comes a larger appreciation for them and an understanding of their weight. Sure enough, the final chord in this portion of the recording is dissonant and it feels potent.

I was initially disappointed that Melody, Silence was a single track; that I couldn’t participate in the reordering of its twelve parts seemed less than ideal. Now, that notion seems silly. Pisaro composed these twelve parts such that they “allow for various transformations, cuts, extensions and silences” so not only is Alvear’s realization wholly unique but the recording is specifically edited and sequenced to allow the listener to engage with it in the way Alvear sees fit. Case in point: a sine tone plays for six minutes around 26 minutes into the record. This time, there’s a deeper warmth and serenity to it and it can clearly be attributed to 1) the fact it’s simply played for a shorter period of time than the first 2) is at a relatively lower frequency and 3) is bookended by periods of silence. As with other Wandelweiser compositions, silence is understood as both “material and a disturbance of material”. These passages of silence function as more than repose; there’s a depth to them and they interact with the listener as well as the other instrumentation. Because of this, each guitar pluck and sine tone is sensed to their fullest capacity.