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Spire - Organ Works Past Present and Future

Royal Organ

If only that love lets letting happen (organ music for organs)
Philip JECK

Sigtryggur Berg SIGMARSSON

Details of a New Discovery


Organ Psalm V*
Scott MINOR/Christian FENNESZ



Visible Invisible


Shut-eye Train



Epiludio Patetico: a tribute to Ruud Langgaard


Askam Wind Cluster
All music performed by composers except * by Charles Matthews on the organs of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary's, Warwick, England, March 2003.
Compiled at EMS, Stockholm and The Embassy, London, October 2003.
TOUCH TONE 20 [52.08 + 53.53]

"The tall peaceful trees would be like the pipes of a great organů",
Claude Debussy

The singular, often beautiful, sometimes wilfully obscure or even absurd Touch philosophy is applied, on this pair of discs, to the world of the organ, "The Emperor of Instruments"; it being Touch, we are taken back as far as 300BC and Ancient Greece and also flung forward into the future. Relatively conventional organ music features alongside environmental recordings of various descriptions and a fair input from the contemporary (non-jazz) avant-garde.

The result is a stimulating, if unusual listen for aficionados of the instrument and for anyone with a mind open to interesting music of any provenance. Although the beautifully photographed sleeve/booklet art (of, for example, precipitous chalk cliffs, light infiltration in a coniferous forest clearing, and gently grazing sheep) and the mention of Anglican church organs might suggest a rather reassuring, traditional content may lie within, nothing could be further from the truth. Label founder and reluctant genius, Mike Harding (not the Lancashire folk comedian!) pens a concise but fascinating and focused introductory note; Arvo Pärt and Richard Rodney Bennett somehow find their way into it. "The organ represents the marriage between acoustic complexity and ritualised space" probably tells you (virtually) everything, up-front, about what you are likely to encounter once you start to listen to the discs.

The more "traditional" pieces include two by BJ Nilsen - the very brief and suitably named Zephyr and Breathe which takes almost twelve minutes to go beyond its introductory drone. Once this happens we do encounter some different and sometimes startling textures but, at 26 minutes plus, it is difficult not to think the work is more extended than its material would normally allow. Marcus Davidson's Psalm V follows like a relative breath of fresh air and organist Charles Matthews again copes admirably with the demands of what must have been quite unfamiliar material. The most interesting music on the CD, although probably not entirely for its own intrinsic value, is provided by Jacob Kirkegaard. He "grew up in the house" where enigmatic Danish composer Rued Langgaard once lived and dedicates his Epiludio Patetico to him. The piece is actually based on samples of Langgaard's organ music, and is good in itself but I would exhort anyone reading this who has never heard his Music of the Spheres (Chandos CHAN 9517) to do so as a matter of urgency - it is strong enough not to be diminished by being placed alongside similar works of Holst, Messiaen and Varèse.

Turning to the more avant-garde aspects of this release, Ellgren's Royal Organ is a rather agitated (and repetitive) "tribute" to Sweden's King Carolus XII. Carolus was a heroic/tyrannical figure who clearly still engenders a rather ambivalent attitude in Swedes almost 300 years after his assassination, the event that brought to an abrupt halt his country's military adventurism into adjacent countries. Z'EV follows with something much more appealing to these ears - Bach's organ music deftly manipulated with sampling technology to fit it into an eastern, healing rubric - hence the "organ music for organs" subtitle, related specifically to the liver and kidneys!

Philip Jeck's Stops is a pleasant enough drone but thankfully quickly does what its title suggest it should, whereas Sigmarsson's Details would not have been out of place on a "Dark Ambient" compilation like Isolationism, a decade ago! Beatific noise doyen Christian Fennesz teams up with Sparklehorse's Scott Minor to create dwan, a short piece which soothes the nerves as effectively as any Pharaoh Sanders or Marion Brown solo. However, the low frequencies around which Péturson's Diabolus operates do exactly the opposite and are appropriately titled. Geir Jenssen, from arctic Norway, is an acknowledged genius of the ambient scene, possibly as great an influence as Brian Eno in the latter's late seventies/early eighties heyday. Cirque (also on Touch) was a magnificent disc, and although the ambition here is more restrained, the simple signal of Visible Invisible is clearly a product of a searching, forward thinking musical mind. Toshiya Tsunoda's hypnotic, ten minute Layered reminds me of an excellent previous Touch disc of Japanese environmental sound recordings/transmutations (Chiky(u)u). It gives way to something equally entrancing, Tom Recchion's spectral Shut-eye Train. Recchion reappears later with guitarist Oren Ambarchi on the similarly crepuscular Remake. Disorganised was committed to tape "in 1976 at the Unitarian Church in Niagara Falls" and was provided by the Analogue Society Archive. Although the quality of recording (due to the age?) and indeed the level of inspiration are pretty suspect, there is no denying the atmosphere created. Scott Taylor's Droner is based around the invention of the first organ in ancient Greece, but for all its scientific and historical relevance does not stick in the mind particularly. Chris Watson, formerly of Cabaret Voltaire and BBC wildlife sound recordist par excellence, closes the set with a piece, based on tapes of weather systems and wind, which finds pure poetry in nature and hopefully will encourage listeners to investigate his marvellous previous discs like Stepping into the Dark and Outside the Circle of Fire.

Neil Horner

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