Michael Pisaro

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.

Graham Lambkin / Michael Pisaro - Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)


Purchase Schwarze Riesenfalter here

Schwarze Riesenfalter is a wholly unique work for both Lambkin and Pisaro. For one, it feels like a modern day tone poem. The symmetry of the track times as well as the fact that the album and song titles match the accompanying poem indicate that there’s an intention to create a narrative and representation of the text through music. Consequently, a clear reference point seems to be Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and the Giraud poems from which that work builds on. Talking with Pisaro, he states that the creative process for the record was mostly intuitive, however, and the literary allusions that were then used for the track titles “seemed more than appropriate, almost like we’d been visited by it”. He also mentioned the works of Trakl, and it seems incredibly appropriate because like the Austrian poet’s (later) worksSchwarze Riesenfalter is incredibly visual and atmospherically ominous without feeling heavy handed or dishonest. It’s precisely the way that Lambkin and Pisaro handle the theatrics on this record that makes it so admirable. The piano is most impressively utilized, often providing restraint by grounding the sounds it juxtaposes while simultaneously creating tension through rumbling overtones and the weight of single atonal notes. And with a large sound palette and effective pacing, Schwarze Riesenfalter proves to be a journey that’s as mesmerizing as it is entertaining.

[note: this mini-review originally appeared in a multi-part post recounting my ten favorite records of January]