Words about music. From time to time I trade record-related barbs with musician and occasional co-conspirator Across The River, Shaded By Trees. The concept being I rant and rave about pretty boys with guitars, whilst he mines territory far more conducive to an understanding of sonic construction, a deeper evaluation of sound and the resonance it reaches with the accompanying receptors.
The other day the following themes came up in conversation… and as it’s a musical strand where I must defer to others when it comes to attachment, I offered up this space for ATR,SBT to expand on the subject (he employs medieval ecclesiastical terminology – I couldn’t refuse…enjoy).
Hesychasm is a concept that comes from the Orthodox church. It’s a system of prayer, similar to meditation, whereby the external world is blocked out. A prayer is intoned with the beats of the heart, commonly the Jesus Prayer, to stave away any errant thoughts and centre the practitioner in the silence behind the gnawing nags of our nervous system – where a finer “us” dwells. Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina is central to Dronæment’s Für Mur, and the concept of hesychasm is central to Pärt’s tintinnābulī style.
In tintinnābulī, Pärt all but eradicated the chord in favour of dyads – two note intervals, one from the tonic minor triad in the left hand, selected for proximity to a melody note from the modal scale in the right – these lead to some startling bell-like tones – thus the style name tintinnābulī, and the simple equation Part uses to explain it: 1+1=1. Go sit at a piano, or other instrument, and play a D and F (an octave above) together followed by an F and E (above) – this will give you an idea of the sound, and compositional surprises, particular to this simple style. The effect has been described by Pärt as being entirely contained in the kinetic silence when the conductor’s hand raises before the first downbeat.
Pärt’s Für Alina, the first piece in his oeuvre to use this compositional method, is the main musical device in Dronæment’s Für Mur, which could be ostensibly called a cover version. Für Mur is an ambient track, similar to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 2 or Brian Eno’s On Land: warbling tapes fluttering on a spool, a distant rumbling engine and white noise rising and falling like passing locusts. These sounds, unless actual field recordings, are heavily drenched in one of the newer reverb effects from software such as Audio Ease’s Altiverb, which allows the user to model actual acoustic environments and apply them as an effect for later use. This complex reflection of environment, a cunning illusion of technology, describes a cavernous concrete space around the listener of Für Mur, whispering voices and the persistent drone almost create the space in the minds eye of a dilapidated power station or broadcast tower, reclaimed by nature, but still switched on beneath the decay, verdure and rising water – a distant speaker looping Pärt’s Für Alina eternally as if intoning a line from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to a barren world: “There is no god and we are his prophets.”
The addition of a degraded space around Pärt’s original hesychasm is an interesting re-contextualization, and one I very much enjoyed, but I think you’ll agree the original is infinitely superior – for its silences.
Words: C Rale
Dronæment / Für Mur
Arvo Pärt / Für Alina