Peter GARLAND (b. 1952)
After the Wars
1. Spring View: “The nation is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain.” (after Tu Fu) [4.53]
2. “Summer grass / all that remains / of young warriors' dreams” (after Basho) [5.06]
3. Occasional Poem on an Autumn Day: “When I'm at peace I let everything go” (after Ch'eng Hao) [5.30]
4. “A snowy morning / and smoke from the kitchen roof / it is good.” (after Buson) [4.50]
Sarah Cahill (piano)
rec. 2014, location not specified
COLD BLUE MUSIC CB0044 [20:19]

Peter Garland is a composer I was unfamiliar with, but who has been working for some forty years, and notably studied with James Tenny and Harold Budd. His recordings have been issued on labels such as Cold Blue, New Albion, Tzadik, Mode and New World, all of which give an idea of the type of music he writes. Assuming you’re familiar with them; they are all avant-garde/experimental/minimalist labels.

This disc is one of Cold Blue’s EPs, containing a single work that clocks in at just over twenty minutes. Commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill, who performs the work, as part of her 'A Sweeter Music' project, each of the movements of After the Wars “takes as inspiration a Chinese poem or Japanese haiku”. The movements are arranged in the order of the seasons, and, as the notes to this recording say (available online; no notes included with the disc): “More than in most piano pieces of mine, I explore the quality of resonance in the piano: not just the notes played on the keyboard, but the sense of echo and fade produced by a very deliberate use of pedaling, and the sustaining and release of piano keys after notes and chords are sounded.”

A single, 20-minute work on a CD is an interesting idea and it allows the work to stand on its own but it’s not an ideal way to discover a composer. I find After the Wars to be interesting, and I appreciate what Garland says about the resonance of the piano. This work is quite simple, melodically, and after listening to it several times, one begins to notice that much of the music is in the long, decaying notes, rather than in the melody.

When the work begins, it’s anything but peaceful. Spring, in this work, is a combination of turbulence and growth. Loud bass notes begin, alternating with soft chords. Structurally, this music is not minimalist in the sense of repetition, but it’s minimal in approach. There are simple lines, simple chords and there’s a lot of space around this music, allowing the resonance to come forth as a voice of its own. Time is used here as a musical element. With Summer, the melodies expand from the simply notes and chords of spring, still leaving plenty of space in between the phrases. As Autumn arrives, the tone changes to a series of brief, soft chords, and the movement is a series of chords as pulses a few seconds apart. The final movement, Winter, is more melodic, almost pentatonic, with slow, haunting melodies. Overall, the work has a melancholic tone, as it changes from the strong bass notes at the beginning to the gradually decaying melodies at the end, bringing back the soft chords of Spring.

There is an interesting use of space and time in this work. On the surface, it’s quite simple, but the sounds develop over the span of the four movements as you slowly grow accustomed to the underlying structure. Again, a twenty-minute work is not enough to discover an unknown composer, and after listening to this disc several times, I wanted to hear more. I guess that, in itself, is a recommendation.

Kirk McElhearn

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