Imagine one of those arching, mesmerizing phrases of classic Philip
Glass process music breaking off from the larger pattern and forming
a blissful, spinning eddy curled in upon itself. Much of Phillip
Schroeder’s music on this album sounds something like that. The
good thing is that I like so-called minimalism, because I’ve stretched
my musical boundaries enough over the years to “get it”. The bad
thing is that those eddies remain closed, static worlds where
nothing else intrudes.
I can shift my frame of reference from mentally subdividing
beats to thinking of phrases in a slowly changing, additive
way. It’s really just a matter of shifting one’s point of view
from musical sentences to musical paragraphs. But I can’t quite
shift myself into a state so neutral that the events in these
pieces seem like major happenings. Sometimes Glass and some
of his colleagues have been accused of writing trance music,
that one must abandon all sense of time or event in order to
understand the music. But that really isn’t the case for Glass.
One could make a stronger argument, I suppose, for some of the
“holy minimalists” like Arvo Pärt, but I think perhaps the real
thing has finally arrived in this music by Phillip Schroeder.
I have heard nothing approaching blissed-out stasis closer than
initial impression was positive, despite the mid-range muddying
use of digital delays to create shimmering textures. Move
in the Changing Light 2 starts the disc with shimmering,
iridescent arches of sound. Multi-tracked, slightly out-of-sync
pianos and synthesizers glisten while a wordless soprano spins
wistful phrases through the shiny web. Very pretty. These textures
are explored at such length, when a brief pause arrives, it
makes a strong impact. Then the textures resume, wrapping warmly
around the listener. Very nice, though at almost 13 minutes,
I could imagine one getting a bit restless with it.
the next track, Rising, See the Invisible, started, with
slow, shimmering textures, this time with a mournful baritone
voice coursing through the texture. That takes another nine
minutes. Where Joy May Dwell features webs of only glittering,
shimmering, slowly revolving pianos and their ubiquitous digital
delay. Chalk up another 16 minutes. Then, inexplicably, there
is a short piano piece less than a minute long with broken up
textures, called Make a Distinction. It is indeed the
only distinction on the album, but what is it? A parody of shorter,
more eventful pieces?
seventh chords return like so many twittering birds in a sun-lit
fog in The Patience It Contains, which even at six-and-a-half
minutes was trying my patience. The soprano returns in This
We Have, which at least has the advantage of cycling through
some interesting tonal side-shifts along the way, as well as
some changing textures, courtesy of the synthesizer. Best of
all, it actually seems to arrive somewhere, at a pleasant cantilena
heard briefly near the end. Again though, I can’t fathom why
there are nine-and-a-half minutes of it. Then for the grand
finale, we get Move in the Changing Light 1, which differs
from the first one mainly in the lack of soprano. Apparently,
it takes seven-and-a-half minutes to demonstrate that she’s
not there. Or else it took 13 minutes in the sequel to demonstrate
she was there. Enough.
noted above, the looping of piano tone has a tendency to muddy
and harden the midrange on this disc, making it harsh on the
ears. Even on the unlooped voices and instruments, though, the
sound is rather onerously studio-bound. Everything is miked
closely, allowing for no natural reverberation to give bloom
to the sound.
don’t mean to impugn Mr. Schroeder’s art. There’s no doubt that
he knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing exactly what he wants.
It may well be that there’s something here I just don’t get. But
I suspect I will be only one among many of the Philistines who
would be equally nonplussed when confronted with this recording.
Perhaps those seeking music for meditation or music by which they
can polish their New Age crystals will love this. Myself, if I’m
going to meditate to music, I’ll take a heady brew like Stockhausen’s
Stimmung instead of this tepid broth.
Mark Sebastian Jordan