Compilations can be dodgy affairs, often half-baked ideas from compilers who can only garner throw away tracks from previous recordings. Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft of Touch have consistenty been the exception in their collections. The Touch Sampler series have long been outstanding compilations, and this newcollection of work inspired by or directly influenced by church organs continues in this tradition. Harding lucidly explains in the liner notes that "the organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualised space. It is impossible not to be drawn upward, towards the spire of the church or cathedral, or to the huge daunting forest of pipes themselves." On this compilation, the artists typically emphasize the transcendent expansiveness of sustained organ chords, in many ways emulating the polyphonic minimalism of Arvo Part's organ works. The track that best typifies the ideas behind Spire is that of BJ Nilsen, better known as Hazard. Having captured various recordings of Charles Matthews performing the psalms of Marcus Davidson on the organ at St. Mary's Church in Warwick, England, Nilsen processed these sounds with only multi-tracking, EQ, and volume at his disposal; thus, his track holds onto the rich tonalities of those church organs as he builds up to a majestic crescendo of overwhelming sound. Spire also features the first fruits of the collaboration between Sparklehorse and Fennesz (!), with Sparklehorse's drummer Scott Minor offering a smattering of mellotron and Wurlitzer samples for Fennesz to run through digital aesolization of bleary eyed distortion and fanciful detailing. Other contributors to Spire include Z'ev, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Philip Jeck, Leif Elggren, Zephyr, Marcus Davidson, Finnbogi Petursson, Biosphere, Toshiya Tsunoda, Tom Recchion, Lary Seven /Jeff Peterson, Scott Taylor, Jacob Kirkegaard, Oren Ambarchi, and the ever amazing Chris Watson! Very highly recommended.
Intuitive Music (Spain):
A musical observation that invites experimentation of the stirring power of the organ sound. In this beautiful proposal 17 artists have paid tribute to the organ in an exercise of minimalism that lets us surrender to the misterious effect of it's harmonic capabilty altering our state of consciousness. Featuring 2 CDs presented in a nice sleeve package with tracks from artists such as Chris Watson, Biosphere, Scott Taylor, Fennez, Philip Jeck, Marcus Davidson, Toshiya Tsunoda, Oren Ambarchiand Tom Recchion, Leif Elggren, Jacob Kirkegaard, BJ Nilsen, Finnbogi Petursson, Tom Recchion, Lary 7 and Jeff Peterson, S. Berg Sigmarsson, ZÉV, and Zephyr. An aural experience that everyone should live at least once in life. [Koldo Barroso]
VITAL (The Netherlands):
The sound of an organ appeals to many, and I mean not just those who are religiously inspired. It is also a fascinating instrument for drone music. It's a mighty fascinating instument to hear but also to see. This double CD compilation features works of classical nature as well as 'avant-garde' (for sake of a better term) for church organs in general and other sorts of organs (like a wurlitzer in the Fennesz track). Old acquitances are here, like Fennesz, Benny Nilsen, Oren Ambarchi, Chris Watson, Leif Elggren and Toshiya Tsunoda. However the more classical approaches come from a composition by Marcus Davidson and Zephyr. Mostly the music calls for contemplation and is somber in tone. Drone like characteristics throughout. The first disc, with twelve tracks in fifty some minutes is maybe too short to call for some (semi-) religious meditation, but nevertheless this has turned out be a highly varied disc with highly varied approaches. There are some louder beasts in here, which are not contemplative per se, like the pieces by Elggren and Philip Jeck. The second disc has only five tracks in about the same length and here the meditative character of the instrument works well. Nilsen's piece is one of haunting beauty - soft but well spoken. It takes up half the disc space, but it's timeless. Highlights of disc one are the quite classical piece by Z'ev, Marcus Davidson's 'Organ Psalm V', Scott Minor & Fennesz take on the rough edges of organ music, Biosphere's pastoral sounds and Toshiya Tsunoda's more conceptual approach to using the pipe of an organ. In all, this is highly suprising and fascinating pack of works and maybe the first highlight of the new year. (FdW)
Neptune Records (USA):
The organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualized space. It is impossible not to be drawn upward, towards the spire of the church or cathedral, or the huge daunting forest of pipes themselves. The organ dwarfs all comers, and unlike other instruments, it is this non-musical element which makes the organ stand apart. Some contributors referred to earlier versions of the organ and its often highly political usage, others explored aged instruments themselves. Some studied the effects of the sounds produced on the physique and the psyche, others conceptualized the brief and either built their own or recorded natural or man-made phenomena which utilized the same basic process, wind through pipes. 2 CDs worth of contributions from: Oren Ambarchi with Tom Recchion, Biosphere, Philip Jeck, Jacob Kirkegaard, Scott Minor with Fennesz, Chris Watson, Toshiya Tsunoda, Z'EV, Leif Elggren, BJ Nilsen, and more. Stunning artwork, oversized packaging, and detailed booklet, absolutely beautiful.
Pitchfork Media (USA):
In the liner notes of Spire: Organ Works Past, Present & Future, Touch's Mike Harding claims "It is impossible to overestimate the influence of the organ on the history of music and sound." Indeed, dating from before Christianity, the organ has undergone changes in both physical construction and musical importance. Today, many people probably think of churches as the best place to see and hear organs, but the instrument was at first rejected by Christian authorities for being too associated with secular music. In the Middle Ages, organs were first built into churches, though even then only to appease growing secular political powers. The instruments were soon built as part of the churches themselves, and anyone who has seen a particularly impressive organ towering over church patrons in an old cathedral can attest to their intimidating presence.
However, to connect this ancient instrument to modern music and sound design (as Touch appears to do with this compilation), you have to look at arguably the most important aspect of the organ: chiefly, it represents the first time man attempted to create music using mechanical means, and in the process allowed him to create music theretofore unimagined. The first Greek organs were powered by air pumped from pockets of pressure inside a bucket submerged in water. Thus, it became possible to perform music without ever having to take a breath. Furthermore, organs were soon able to emit tones beyond the range or volume of any traditional instrument. In short, almost every musical tool, piece of electronic equipment or software can be traced back to this thing. Viva la pertinence.
Spire is a collection of pieces "inspired or more directly influenced" by the organ, featuring a few Touch mainstays like Christian Fennesz, Philip Jeck and Biosphere, as well as actual organ composers like Marcus Davidson. In reality, very few of the tracks are actual organ performances. Most treat the instrument as merely a source, makingSpire something of a radical organ remix record. Step back a few and it also works as pure ambience-- the naturally rich, rounded tone of the organs played or sampled overwhelms any attempts to subvert it. However, the two-disc collection also acts as a rare look back among contemporary electronica composers and producers at their "roots." Perhaps the day when we think of our generation's electronic music as being part of the same canon as the organ's isn't far ahead.
Fennesz works with Sparklehorse's Scott Minor on "Dwan", a track they began working on while in residence at a Geneva festival. Performed on a distorted Wurlitzer organ, the track moves from static-ridden clusters to phased, melancholy progressions. At 21⁄2 minutes, it ends far too quickly to really establish much mood, rather seeming like a quick summary instead of a finished piece. Similarly, Jeck's "Stops" is prefaced by a quote from famed French composer Olivier Messiaen, who contributed some of the most amazing music for organ of the 20th Century. In English, it reads, "Music does not express anything directly," and is a perfect preamble to the dense wall of distortion Jeck applies to his major chord. Messiaen's quote betrays his beliefs in musical impressionism by way of Debussy (who also gets a quote in the booklet), and suits the often mysterious qualities of Spire.
Biosphere's "Visible Invisible" is an original performance, and features the solemn tones of church organ as you might hear during a funeral Mass. He uses the instrument as a calming force, constructing the entirely uncluttered piece from overlapping consonances. It's the aural equivalent of faint blue and purple watercolors running together into a formless cushion. "Askam Wind Cluster", by erstwhile Cabaret Voltaire and Hafler Trio member Chris Watson, goes for the arch concept by forming his piece not from an actual organ, but from wind's convection currents, presumably acting in a similar way to air within the pipes of an organ. The rhythmic "beat" of currents demonstrates essentially pure ambience, and also a deceptively simple process of how organ music is produced.
Z'EV contributes "If Only That Love Lets Letting Happen (Organ Music for Organs)", composed from fragments of Bach's "Wenn Nur Den Lieben Gott Laesst Walten", and like Biosphere, creates sweet, mystic calm out of overlapping tones. This is a far cry from Icelandic composer Finnbogi Petursson's "Diabolus", wherein two subsonic organ tones create a "tritone" interval, at one time referred to by Church musicians as the "devil in music" due to its extreme dissonance. Well, that's the idea anyway; Petursson's piece mostly seems like low-level hum unless you really get up close to your speakers (at which time you may experience some light nausea!).
If you have zero interest in a bunch of guys playing with organs, Spire works about as well as any compilation featuring the same cast of characters would. Over time, Touch has left its brand on a whole school of sound design that takes into account classical and natural phenomena, so this set should at least be pretty cool for people already into their roster. Of course, you don't need any special appreciation of organ music to enjoy this, but it's sometimes reassuring to know the new kids still remember their basics. [Dominique Leone, January 12th, 2004]
Urban Mag (Belgium):
In de Vlaamse handelsstad Ieper niet ver van de markt vind je de prachtige en statige Sint-Maartenskathedraal, die de stad van ver in de omtrek overheerst. De kathedraal werd tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog nagenoeg volledig met de grond gelijkgemaakt, maar desondanks vind je er nog steeds één van de wonderen van de Vlaamse ambachtskunst. Binnenin vind je immers één van de machtigste kerkorgels ter wereld. Het goddelijke muziekinstrument beschikt niet alleen over een indrukwekkend arsenaal van zo'n 3000 windpijpen maar de mogelijkheden van het instrument zijn tevens schier onbegrensd. Atheïst als we zijn, kunnen we, als we even in de buurt zijn, het toch niet laten om even binnen te wippen en om ons te laten bedwelmen door de volle en organische sound van één van de rijkste instrumenten ter wereld. We hebben de laatste jaren ook meermaals nagedacht over de vele onbenutte, muzikale mogelijkheden van zo'n kerkorgel. Een gedachte, die gedeeld werd door labelbaas Mike Harding van Touch. Een project, dat zich toespitst op die verborgen en miskende kanten van het orgel, kan dan ook steeds op onze volle aandacht rekenen. De dubbel-cd 'Spire - Organ Works Past Present & Future' bevat een aantal orgelwerken van klassieke snit (Marcus Davidson en Zephyr) en een groot aantal experimentele orgelcomposities (Biosphere, Fennesz/Scott Minor, Philip Jeck, Chris Watson en vele anderen). Daarbij springt vooral de begintrack 'Breathe' van de tweede cd van de dubbelaar in het oor. Voor de opname van dat nummer kroop Benny Nilsen aka Hazard met zijn contactmicrofoons letterlijk tot diep in het orgel van de St. Mary's Church in Warwick, terwijl organist Marcus Davidson er psalmen op ten gehore bracht. Het resultaat is een speelse en luchtige deconstructie van de dreunende, brommende en hijgende keizer der instrumenten. [Peter Wullen]
I can think of no instrument capable of drones as complex, distinct, or primitive as those generated by the pipe organ. The experience of sitting below a great organ's clustered form, letting its breath wash the length of a cathedral, can be compared to viewing one of Rembrandt's late self-portraits, watching as each square-centimeter teems with an infinity of golden life, an inner millennium finding perfect equivalent in the sustained blast of an organ note. As if its textural prowess and sacred acoustics were not enough, the organ represents also a milestone in the mechanization of musical instruments, making it a prime target for this kind of tribute, a virtual who's-who of Touch's roster, some of the most recognizable names in electro-acoustic music, all willing to shed their respective skins and make some music created with, or inspired by, organ sounds. Thankfully, most everyone included manages to come at the pipes in a thoughtful and largely unique way, making Spire an endlessly interesting, if not always enjoyable compilation. The range of different approaches, which in many cases depart significantly from their composers' tested styles, proves both a blessing and a curse, where the sequencing of the two discs inevitably interferes with the enjoyment of the individual tracks. Many interesting pieces seem to end prematurely or appear dwarfed by the enormity or lavishness of their surroundings. The contributions of Philip Jeck and Leif Elggren, shorter tracks focusing on solitary, largely unadulterated organ blasts, fail to stand out among the longer, similarly fundamental or minimalist approaches of Biosphere and BJNilsen. Likewise, some of the more concept-oriented inclusions end up sounding much better on paper than on disc, one example being Finnbogi Pétursson's "Diabolus" in which the artist's homemade single-pipe organ creates a low-frequency tone interval that in Medieval times was referred to the "devil in music" but is barely audible here. In contrast, other loosely-conceptual works make for some of the best material, like Z'EV's woozy "If only that love let's letting happen," based entirely on samples of Bach's organ music found via a Google search, and Toshiya Tsunoda's ambient "Layered," produced by a homemade shortwave radio organ set outside on a midsummer night. Generally, tracks on the second disc make for the most enjoyable pieces because they are long enough to become thickly atmospheric, to fill the room with the same arresting, monumental calm that great cathedral organs produce. BJNilsen (aka Hazard) actually composed "Breathe" for performance at St. Mary's Church in Warwick England. The half-hour piece, a simple, unfolding drone spanning huge intervals on organs constructed as early as 1898, is one of Spire's most spare works and one of its most impressive. Other highlights from the disc include an Oren Ambarchi and Tom Recchion piece originally released on a limited IDEA 7"; it makes sense here because Recchion plays Hammond on the track, though it is admittedly more in line with Ambarchi's solo work that anything particularly "organ-inspired." Spire ends with new music from field recording guru Chris Watson whose wind recordings become an allegory identifying the organ with the elemental or divine act of harnessing the air, as well as associating the instrument with a image of majesty that seems wholly justified at the close of such a compilation. [Andrew Culler]
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
Dann doch lieber gleich das 'Himmelfahrtskommando' von Spire - Organ Works Past Present And Future (Touch Tone 20, 2xCD). Die Orgel als das Instrument, das nach den einleitenden Worten von Mike Harding die Hochzeit zwischen akustischer Komplexität und ritualisiertem Raum repräsentiert, gewinnt unter der Obhut von Leuten, bei denen man Affinitäten zur 'Kaiserin unter den Instrumenten' kaum vermutet hätte, eigene Reize und seltsame Dimensionen. Die bei Messiaen und Pärt noch mit religiösen Ober- und Untertönen aufrauschende, bei Palestine schon in eine Ästhetik des Erhabenen rückcodierte, bei Osso Exotico und Guionnet dann nur noch aus Soundpassion angeblasene ultimative Panflöte dient hier als Junggesellenwindmaschine für Leif Elggren, Z'EV, Philip Jeck, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Marcus Davidson, Scott Minor / Fennesz, Finnbogi Pétursson, Biosphere, Toshiya Tsunoda, Tom Recchion allein und im Duo mit Oren Ambarchi, Lary Seven & Jeff Peterson, BJNilsen, Scott Taylor, Jacob Kirkegaard und Chris Watson. Elggrens 'Royal Organ' nimmt mit einem knurrig überrauschten Trauermarsch Bezug auf den 1718 erschossenen Karl XII, den mythenumrankten König, dessen Kriegspolitik ein verarmtes und ausgelaugtes Schweden zurück ließ. Z'EV komprimiert ein Bach-Sample zu dröhnenden Chakra-Stufen. Mit einem noch monotoner prasselnden polychromen Cluster verbeugt sich Jeck vor Messiaen. Sigmarsson verfremdet bei seiner Entdeckung die 'Vox Dei' mit sublimen Haltetönen und den extremen Registern entlockten Vibrationen in ein atmosphärisches Rauschen, während Davidsons prächtiger 'Organ Psalm V' sich ganz der Tradition fügt. Die Kollaboration von Fennesz und Sparklehorse zeitigte einen rauhen, trautonium-gefilterten und distortionbox-verzerrten Wurlitzerdrone. Pétursson, Islands Vertreter auf der Biennale 2002 in Venedig, installierte einen 16 Meter langen Schlauch, in dem durch überlappende Sinustöne als Interferenzwelle von 17 Hz der 'Diabolus in musica' erklang, eine Anspielung auf das grundsätzlich Blasphemische im Abgesang der 'Noise Culture' auf die Harmonia Mundi. Geir Jenssen lässt mit simplen, pulsierenden Zweiklängen den Schleier der Maja erzittern. Tsunoda schichtet die Klänge einer durchzirpten Mittsommernacht mit Kurzwellensalat, den er durch Rohrstücke unterschiedlicher Länge geschickt hat, zu einem hitzigen Sieden, Knispeln und Hornissengesumm. Recchions 'Shut-Eye Train' evoziert eher Gitarren- als Orgelassiziationen. CD 1 schließt mit einem dröhnminimalistischen Soundexperiment von 1976, dem von Peterson & 7 in Realzeit organisierten Zusammenklang einer vollen Orgel mit dem Playback einzelner Pfeifen. CD 2 gehört zur Hälfte BJNilsens 'Breathe', ein sublimes Klangbeben, gespielt von Charles Matthew auf der Orgel der St. Mary's Church in Warwick, England, und im Studio lediglich durch Multilayering bearbeitet. Das Resultät lässt vermuten, dass schon der Originalklang selbst sich einem unkonventionellen Umgang mit dem Instrument verdankt. Taylors 'Drone', ein scharf 'singendes', quasi elektronisches Glissando, ist eine Hommage an den Griechen Ktesibios, der im 2. Jhdt. BC die Organa hydraulica erfand, ein Instrument, das erstmals Dauertöne möglich machte. Kirkegaards Beitrag 'Epiludio Patetico' ist ein Tribute an den dänischen Komponisten Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), einem der Romantik und dem Symbolismus zugeneigten Außenseiter im Mainstream der Moderne, und besteht ausschließlich aus bearbeiteten Samples seiner Musik. Recchion revisited wartet tatsächlich mit den Gitarrendrones von Ambarchi auf, die zusammen mit Hammondorgel, Tapeloops und Sampling die Spieluhrmelancholie von 'Remake' ins Ohr träufeln. Beim Weatherman & Zoologen Watson schließlich ertönt ausschließlich der Blasebalg eines Atlantischen Tiefs, ein von Sonnenenergie aufgewirbelter pulsierender Sphärenklang. Wenn sich bei "Spire" so etwas wie 'Frömmigkeit' abzeichnet, dann im Kniefall vor dem Throne of Drones. In all diesen dröhnminimalistischen Haltetönen scheint das "Verweile doch..." des alten Faust mitzuschwingen, eine latente Sehnsucht, das Ticken der Zeit abzuschalten, dafür den Atem nicht abreißen zu lassen, ein Perpetuum Mobile in Gang zu bringen, das Kontinuität sicher stellt.