Maria W Horn: Epistasis (LP, Hallow Ground, October 2019)

At last! I’ve been, ah, rinsing this since it came out digitally back in October, but I’ve been holding off on writing about it until I got hold of my vinyl copy, which took a while. It was worth it, since it has unusually helpful sleeve notes.

Anyway, this is a kind of magical record, one which makes fantastic things happen out of tiny moments. The first of these happens a little bit less than two minutes into the ten-minute opening track, Interlocked Cycles I, a piece for Disklavier (an electromechanical player piano) and synthesis. It’s been playing a simple, almost naive little piano line, with some only-just-there synth washes, and then this new synth noise wells up a little louder, and there’s an unexpected note in the melody, and… well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but it makes me catch my breath a little whenever I hear it, and I guess that’s the magic.

The rest of the A-side is taken up with the title track, which Horn describes as an eight-voice double string quartet: the quartets are each violin, viola, cello, and electric guitar, with Horn on viola, I think we can deduce from the notes. It’s a slightly eerie piece, full of strange resonances. Quoting from the sleeve again, it “utilizes evolving progressions in F minor, the idiom being inspired by the sound and harmonic structure of doom and black metal music from the early nineties”, which isn’t something I would have picked up on in a million years, but which makes a great deal of sense. (There’s a slight resemblance to Anna von Hausswolf here, at least in terms of the ideas going on here if not in terms of the actual sounds laid down.)

By this kind of logic it is, of course, a small step from early nineties doom and black metal to the tintinnabuli technique of Arvo Pärt, which is the cited inspiration for Konvektion, the first track on the B-side. This is the most minimal work on the record, consisting of long chords held on the organs and those feather-light synthesized notes again, with all the business going on in the harmonics and resonances. If that makes it sound dryly theoretical then I’m sorry, because it has a kind of hypnotic appeal.

The final track is Interlocked Cycles II, which is the slightly darker twin of the opening number.

Huh, I’ve gone on for ages about this record, and I still feel like I’ve only just scratched it’s surface. It’s a thing of subtlety and beauty that combines seemingly simple elements to quietly spell-binding effect.

I bought this from the label’s Bandcamp page.

Lubomyr Melnyk: Fallen Trees (LP, Erased Tapes, December 2018)

Ukrainian-born pianist Lubomyr Melnyk came up with what he called ‘continuous music’ sometime in the seventies, but seems to have been having a bit of a moment recently, at least in parts through his involvement with Erased Tapes. This is my first real exposure to his work, and, boy, what an experience it is.

As far as I can tell, ‘continuous music’ means playing dense cascade of notes really fast without let-up, with a healthy usage of the sustain pedal. It’s obviously inspired by American minimalism, but it’s also quite melodic — much more so than, say, Charlemagne Palestine’s Strumming Music, which seems an obvious reference point. This record also includes a little bit of chanting (mostly from Japanese label-mate Hatis Noit) and a little bit of cello (from Anne Müller) — but it still has a much more direct purity than, say, Bing and Ruth (and, yes, I imagine it’s much more likely that David Moore is influenced by Melnyk than the other way around).

The A-side has three pieces, the sparkling Requiem for a Fallen Tree, the thunderous Son of Parasol, and the comparatively conventional Barcarolle (which even has, like, gaps between some of the notes! I have to say that I wouldn’t choose to listen to a record that’s all like this, but it’s a nice palate cleanser). The B-side is a single five-part piece called Fallen Trees, it covers a range of styles and emotions, and it’s absolutely stonking. In a just world, Melnyk would be filthy rich on the moolah from his finger sponsors. Ah well. Back in the real world, let’s hope his eighth decade brings us more records as good as this one.

I bought this from Norman Records. They call it Neo-classical / Classical / Orchestral and Drone / Kosmische / Minimal.