OLIVIA BLOCK – Olivia Block

Another Timbre

Editor’s note: this review was originally meant to appear in The Squid’s Ear. However, the physical release sold out in a matter of weeks (downloads can still be ordered at the source) so I was allowed to publish it here. Thanks to Phil Zampino for this.

If there is something in life that I find annoying – particularly in the creative fields – is a loudmouthed individual dealing with a multitude of projects in superficial fashion. Over the years, Olivia Block has gained utmost respect here for opposite reasons. Underpinning a healthy artistic curiosity, her explanations are concise and intelligently grounded; furthermore, she doesn’t seem to be overly interested in the “coverage at any cost” war. Her work emphasizes the importance of certain components of human perception without the need of tricking an audience into pseudo-shocking happenings whose actual significance is next to nil.

This relatively short album – circa 35 minutes subdivided into three nameless movements – is an ideal exemplification of my reading of Block’s music as the result of an investigation of the “in between”. Although the piano constitutes the fundamental source of what we hear, the compound of real time playing, pre-recorded materials and additional frequency generators (Block also employs a vintage organ’s ineffable murmurs) makes sure that a listener is never allowed to settle down in contemplative ease, not even in the rarefied sections. Case in point, the impressive third part: one literally hears the hammers asking profound questions to the strings, who respond accordingly.

On occasion the interaction generated by the keys, the manipulated innards and the environmental features is enhanced by preparations; this increases the textural motility and, in general, the music’s more improvisational attributes. However, the composer’s renowned ability in acoustically describing the twilight zone where “resonance” rhymes with “discernment” ultimately prevails. In those contexts, any pitch – spurious or less – represents an indication, not a distraction. For fleeting instants, the scientist’s laboratory becomes a hub of extracorporeal transmissions.

In spite of the apparent calmness defining long stretches of it, Olivia Block is not exactly following Another Timbre’s penchant for composers acquainted with the conjugation of “barely there” sounds and protracted silences. Block’s experiments are chock full of subsurface activities occurring in spaces that may appear totally obscure, or irradiated by a beautiful light; it all depends on your position. In the meantime, the fourth consecutive replay has ended; coming back to normality after such a rewarding afternoon is not a comfortable feeling.

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