Somnambule - Writing About Music

Spire ~ Live In Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre

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 followup 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’s 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’s 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’s also a fair amount of ambient sound: 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 drydock.

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 a sample of a heavy metal riff that’s 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 claustrophic 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 his contribution to Live In Leuven, a trio recording with Jah Wobble and Jaki Liebezeit. It’s soon subsumed by a clanking, peg-legged rhythm accompanied by organ that’s 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. The effect is reminiscent of replacing Steve Reich’s percussion instruments 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.

Highly recommended.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by Milkfactory