You can’t go wrong with field recordings of birds and planes remotely rupturing a countryside whisper, or the inherent weight of sparsely resonant piano gestures. “Fields Have Ears 1” contains all of these elements, a good opening move in Michael Pisaro’s near-namesake CD. Also scored for “tape”, it’s not mere bucolic quietness: undefined colourless murmurs and ghosts of pitches emerge to instantly evaporate, a mild ambiguity added to the environmental stillness. The airline/ornithology blend prevails on the remaining factors, unifying things efficiently in a modest and beautiful statement.
“Fade”, for piano (Philip Thomas, both here and in the previous chapter), is not on the same level. Over twenty minutes of extremely minimal figurations, typically single notes or basic combinations left to reverberate for a hypothetical contemplation of bareness. People tend to attach “deep listening” philosophies to this sort of stuff, and I’m growingly amazed at the plethora of pictorially calligraphic descriptions of evoked moods, trembling souls and mental shades getting spent for music that anybody gifted with a modicum of inner ear could produce by sitting in front of a keyboard. The problem is that many amateurish practitioners – encouraged by an uncomplicatedness that the souk of today’s indulgent listeners is ready to accept and exalt – do exactly that and release the results. Without retrieving the infamous Stockhausen vs Feldman accident, let me just say that the piece is anonymous, and leave it at that. Why stressing performers, foundations and audiences? Give them few complications, have the musicians concentrate a bit and you’re all set.
The longest track is the final “Fields Have Ears 4”, this version rendered by fourteen performers. The instrumentation comprises piano, natural objects, zither, double bass, laptop, conical blow horn, slide whistle, spring drum, trumpet, cymbal, melodica, cello, frog guero and clarinet. The composer suggests that the general hush should only be interrupted by what he calls “slight indentations in the surrounding silences”. Following the advice I trimmed down the volume and – sure enough – it did work quite well, constituting a fine and unobtrusive match to whatever was going on during the different spins. Pisaro’s best asset is the ability to turn diverse instrumental personalities into blurred undertones; this episode is one of the most successful I’ve heard from him in that sense, a combination of drone, disembodiment and inscrutability maintaining a clutch throughout.
Evolved ambient? Maybe. While those who live in silent rural areas are not in dire need of a digitized photocopy of their aural reality, in earlier times this writer was repeatedly caught wondering how the residents of noisy neighbourhoods can stand a chance for a correct approach to and appraisal of this type of material. Headphones are dangerous, for a series of reasons (for example, detached specialists immediately realizing that a sizeable portion of these discs is not that extraordinary). Yet there’s no denying that Pisaro has been gaining considerable credibility of late, thanks to a number of intriguing acoustic issues and – in no small part – to the relentless propaganda accompanying each of his actions, as if the relationship between sound colour and gravity of silence hadn’t existed before. By disregarding the compulsory exhilaration of those words and scrutinizing the records conscientiously, the appeal/insipidness ratio changes. In this particular occasion, it’s 2:1.