005: Moniek Darge
An interview with field recording artist Moniek Darge + album downloads and our writers panel on Robert Haigh's 'Black Sarabande'
|Jan 27, 2020||5|
Welcome to Tone Glow, a newsletter focused on experimental music edited by Joshua Minsoo Kim. In our fifth issue, we talk with field recording artist Moniek Darge. We also have album downloads and our writer panel’s thoughts on Robert Haigh’s Black Sarabande.
Moniek Darge is a composer, violinist, installation artist, and field recording extraordinaire. She and her husband Godfried-Willem Raes have worked together for decades in running the Logos Foundation and have created music as Logos Duo. I video chatted with Darge on a Saturday morning about Buddhism, sacred places, and the new book/LP from the Logos Foundation, which features writing and music from throughout the organization’s fifty-year existence. All photos in this feature were provided courtesy of the Logos Foundation. The first photo below was taken at BOEM 2019 in Antwerp.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: What constitutes a sacred place—what makes a location a sacred place for you?
Moniek Darge: That’s a nice question, wow. Thank you. It’s right to the point. For me, I think a sacred place is a place where we love to be, where we always go back—we feel good, and we may not know why. But that could be a place in a city, in a town, in the woods—I don’t know where, everyone has their own places—but it’s there that you feel connected with the universe. We may not call it the universe but we feel there is something extra there. I myself was puzzled by the idea: Why is my sacred place a sacred place? And then I met the aboriginal people of Australia and I saw this idea that they have sacred places. And well, they explain it’s because of the spirits of the dream world. We as Westerners say that it’s not that and that it’s very simple—we just see water or a shadow. But for me when I go out, a lot of it is the sound that makes something a sacred place. I love photographs and films but sound goes somewhere deeper inside for me.
What were sacred places for you when you first became familiar with this idea, or even before that—are there sacred places you had when you were a child that you didn’t realize were sacred places until you were an adult?
Yes there was a sacred place when I was a teenager. It wasn’t far away from my home where I lived with my parents. It was a bridge they constructed over a canal from Bruges to Ostend. This canal was going from there to the sea and, I don’t know, for some reason they made the bridge there—it never got connected with any roads. It was within biking distance and I went there and stood on that bridge. That was my sacred place because going there, I saw reeds moving in the wind, and looking down from the bridge I saw my hair moving back and forth in the water. It was there that I made my connection with the universe and my parents thought I would be Catholic—I tried to be and it didn’t work—but I found my sacred place there and thought, “Wow, that is my God. He’s everywhere, he’s in the universe.” If I go further back, when I was a little child—it was when I was around four or five years old—I found a sacred place that changed my life completely. At school one day they decorated the church building with white flowers. They asked all the little children to bring white flowers and I remember myself in a white dress and a white bow in my hair and with white beautiful flowers—lilies—and then the door of this church opened and I thought woooooow. It was all white and I still remember the fragrance of the flowers—that was my first connection with the mystic. Perhaps that was my first sacred place but now I’m reconstructing—I’ve never thought about this until talking with you. Thank you for allowing me to remember that and to make that connection.
You mentioned that you remember the smell of the flowers, do you feel scent plays a role in your appreciation of a sacred place? Do you often think about scent specifically?
We’re all human beings, we have a lot of senses, and we always think we have “this sense first, vision first, or sound” but in fact we are just one complete being. I think scent is very important—in fact, I think it’s a big pity—that we can not make a registry of scents. I had that impression with my experience in Kenya. We went to a market and people were footballing with the head of an ox and it smelled in the heat and with the meat all around us. I took a picture but looking at, nothing happens—the smell is not there. So smell is very, very important. And I had the same sort of experiences in my childhood. I don’t know why, but I was always burning incense. And I looked at the little smoke going over and back—the smell of incense is so precious to me.
I appreciate you talking about these sacred places when you were younger. What are some sacred places for you today?
Well for many years I’ve been a Buddhist and my most sacred place now is in front of my altar. We don’t have a sculpture of buddha—we just have calligraphy. And in fact, nowadays, my sacred places are inside of me—now I realize that. I can take them everywhere, and that’s what I tried to do with my later soundscapes. I can go to Australia, for example, and my sacred place is there, or I go to Egypt and it’s there—it’s wherever I travel. Sometimes I come in a place and it comes out and I catch it again—I can open it, let it go, and catch it.
Were you in Egypt recently?
Yes, that’s my newest soundscape project and I traveled there throughout the past two years. I have a lot of audio now and what I’m trying to do with Egypt is what I’ve tried to do with India, with Bali, with Crete, with Ghent. It’s this question: “When other people hear this sound, how can they experience this place as a sacred place.” And I often combine audio now with photographs or video, but it’s always: How can I communicate? How can I take you to Egypt without you being there, how can I tell you what that sacred place in Egypt means to me and know if you can feel it?
When you were in Egypt, what sort of sounds did you want to make sure you captured that were emblematic of the country?
It was very funny because the first time that I went there I thought, “Oh my goodness, the mu’azzin in the minaret in the mosque—that’s what I don’t want to have in my soundscape.” I tried to avoid it as much as I could for all kinds of reasons. And the second time when I went back I thought, “These noises… I have to, I need them in my soundscape.” And now I’m very happy with them. Every time I could record the mu’azzin, I did. They don’t do it live anymore—it’s not acoustic, it’s through speakers. This one time I was very, very sure that I heard a shofar and thought, “I’m hearing a shofar in the middle of a truly Islamic town.” I went to the guide and said “I heard an instrument,” and he said “No there is no instrument here, it’s only someone’s voice,” but there was so much deformation and saturation on that voice, and the reproduction of the voice sounded like a shofar. I thought I was hearing peace itself.
You have a lot of albums where you’re capturing these specific sounds. How much material do you usually have in total and how much gets cut down to what’s on an album? And what does that process look like?
That’s a hard question to give an exact answer for because I never measure it. When I go abroad I have my Zoom—it’s a very primitive Zoom solid-state recorder—and now also my telephone. What you hear in my soundscapes are a lot of noises and traffic—stuff that’s already there—so the quality isn’t that important. I collect whatever I hear and some days I become really crazy because I hear too much and then I say, “Not for today, I’ll take the day off.” When I collect sounds I’ll come home and there’s a process I go through but I’m a slow worker—a very slow worker, I need a lot of time. I listen to all my sounds and make annotations. Sometimes I use little bits of recordings or a little more… it’s not something I calculate beforehand. Right now I don’t know where I’m going and I love that process. I have all that material and, like picking flowers, I take what I want and put them together and might say, “Oh this is not it” and then will pick something else. It’s a very intuitive way of working. I love surrealism and associations. I think it’s the best way to try and communicate the mystic qualities of a sacred place.
How do you decide what countries you go to—to do these recordings?
Ha, that’s a hard question too. There are a lot of countries I still want to go to—Japan is one. I’ve been there four or five times and I really want to go back to make a lot of recordings. And often it’s like that: these countries will be places with interesting sounds that I want to go back to. For the moment it’s Japan that’s first. How do I decide it? (short pause) I’ve never thought about that. With Egypt I wanted to study their art when I was young. When I went to university to study archaeology, I wanted to study ancient Egyptian art but they did not have it in the University of Ghent. We had to study hieroglyphs and that wasn’t what interested me and all of a sudden I was playing with the Logos Women and [Logos Women member] Françoise Vanhecke said, “Next year I’m going to Egypt” and I said, “What! You’re going to Egypt? I’m going with you.” I really want to go back, I think I need more sounds.
I remember reading in your interview with The Wire that you consider the music you make to be very different from that of your husband’s, and I actually remember laughing when I first heard the music you made with him because it sounded little like your solo work. What sort of sounds would you say you’re most interested in?
I’m very interested in everyday sounds that repeat. Any type of drone-like sound, I love. I promised myself never to record water again because it’s always there but even in Egypt I found so many interesting sounds and sources of water, it was incredible. I’m thinking about your question about the different countries I’ve been to. I wanted to go to India because it’s very linked with Buddhism. Bali was because it’s a country that’s fascinated me for a long time—there are a lot of Islamic nations surrounding it and Bali is Hindu. It has to do with religion quite often, that’s a topic in my life that I find very interesting.
My approach to music is so different from Godfried’s. He’s a very strict atheist and I did my best to become an atheist—I even tried to become an agnostic—but it did not work for me. I need some kind of way to move from some contact that’s on a personal level, that can then connect me with the universe. I don’t know if that’s clear enough but I think… it’s like the childhood experience I had with my flowers and it’s like my whole life I was looking for that experience, to find it again. And I find it a lot in everyday situations—not in special situations—and not in religion, not in serving a God. It’s this idea that I am just a human being and am part of a very big universe—that’s what is interesting to me. When I can feel that, that’s a sacred place.
How did you initially become a Buddhist? What interested you about it?
Ha, it’s very funny. I became the Buddhist that I am now because of my travels to Japan. I was interested in Buddhism and my mother once said, “Your whole life you were interested in Buddhism, we thought you would be into Catholicism, but why are you interested in this?” That’s just how it works, I don’t know why. In Japan—it was funny—we were on a concert tour there, it was our first concert tour in Japan. It was a tour around Honshu and we went from one place to the next and there was a festival, but instead of taking us into the city they took us to different spaces in nature. And they had one concert that was outside of Honshu on Shikoku island and there was a woman who was very kind to me. I didn’t understand because there was an organization that was a sort of philosophy ritual group—they all had the same T-shirts—and this woman [Eiko Takahashi] did not take part in that group but she was always there and she was especially kind to me. She gave me presents and I thought, “What does she want?” She showed me around different shops and cities. And just before l left she gave me a book and said, “This is as new as your music.” I looked at the book and thought, “A Buddhist book… as new as my music? C’mon, my music is experimental. Buddhism had been here 500 years before Christ… what are you talking about?”
I took the book home and read it, and wrote her back because we stayed in touch. She always sent presents so I sent her presents back, and we kept going back and forth. One day I said, “That book about Buddhism you gave, it’s very strange… there are so many different kinds of Buddhism.” One day I sent her a cassette with some of my music and she wrote back, “I know a song that, if you sing it, will make you happy.” And I asked her to give me the cassette but she said, “No, it’s a song you need to sing yourself.” So I said send me the score and she said, “It’s about world peace and it’s a mantra.” Then she made a connection with an organization that had branches in Belgium and a man invited me to go to his place, and I went there as it was a meeting about world peace. When I went in I heard the mantra and thought, “What is this?” And I smelled the incense and felt at home. I went upstairs and noticed the door was open and I saw this calligraphy, smelled the incense, heard the mantra and thought, this is what I’m looking for. So I came back to my husband Godfried and told him I’m a Buddhist. And then he said, “I know you, it will only be for 14 days,” but it’s been thirty years now.
Can you tell me about the book that’s coming out from the Logos Foundation, and the LP that comes with it?
Here is the book and it’s brand new, it just came into our house! (shows me a copy of the book). It’s a little bit too luxurious for me (laughs). I’m happy with it. It’s Fifty Years of Logos, Fifty Years of Experiment—that’s the title. Godfried wrote his own history of Logos one year ago. In this book here, we have outstanding people in new music who wrote about Logos and at the end there’s a story I wrote—I was always writing when I was traveling, and wrote about where we were going, what I saw, what I heard, what I smelled, what I experienced. For years and years we had the Logos Blad, our new music magazine, but it was all in Dutch and my stories were never all compiled. My dream is to have them all together and translated in English but at least there’s one part translated now. It’s this story about Rwanda. We were always saying music is universal but that’s easy to say, we wanted to see if it was true. We wanted to organize shows in different places and I was organizing our show called World Tour at that moment with concerts in Rwanda, Kenya, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, and we were trying to see if music was universal.
How long ago was that experience in Rwanda?
It was… ‘88 or ‘84, hold on let me look in the book. (flips through book). It was March ‘88 that I wrote this. The African people in Rwanda told us they couldn’t understand our European music—they’d fall asleep, because they didn’t see any structure. But we didn’t want to play for Belgians in Rwanda, we wanted to play with the Africans there and we were lucky because the ambassador himself took us and we could perform in a Rafiki, which was a friendship house. There weren’t any non-African artists who had played there before, and people kept saying it wouldn’t work out but it worked out perfectly. I remember when I played high notes on the violin people started laughing, and I was confused—why are people laughing? And then when I made a glissando from a very low to a very high note, everyone started to move up from their seats and were moving along to the sound. Godfried had big colorful wires that were hanging in between his electronic devices and after the concert, people asked us if they could take the wires to use as belts. We had such a beautiful time. They had no posters because a lot people were illiterate so we had an inanga player who was talking in Kinyarwanda about our concert. If people did not understand where sounds came from they would come on stage, see what was occurring, and explain to the audience what was happening. It was a beautiful experience, I just loved it. It was very special.
What’s on the LP?
We’ve organized concerts for fifty years and we have different pieces from throughout this time. We have installation pieces, there is a duo piece called “Songbook” that Godfried wrote, a piece from Laura Maes & Kristof Lauwers, a piece from Logos Women because for a long time I traveled and worked with them—the LP has a lot of collaborators and people who have worked with Logos for decades.
Are there any installations or shows that have taken place at the Logos Foundation that stand out or have changed the way you think about music?
Yes, there are three women who changed my attitude towards music and I’m very grateful for them. First, there is Alison Knowles. Her approach to everyday objects taught me to listen to everyday sounds. I remember when I walked with her in Ghent and she pointed and said, “Look, do you see that bottle cap there and see its color?” She taught me to look at these trivial objects and to see them in a totally different way, with different eyes. And then I performed many times with her—with beans—and she taught me how to listen to these everyday sounds. I was already working with soundscapes but she really taught me a lot.
And then there’s Pauline Oliveros. She was so wonderful—a very, very good friend, she had been here many times. In Canada, I did workshops with her at the Sound Symposium festival about deep listening and the sounds of her accordion. I was immersed in sound—I learned to go into sound, not to stay outside as a listener.
And then from New Zealand there’s Annea Lockwood who made the sound map of the Hudson River. I did performances with her about memories. When she was here at the Logos Foundation she asked us to bring an object that is very dear to us and to talk about it. It was so intimate, trustful, and full of empathy. I thought, “That’s the kind of show I want to do.”
Do you remember what object you brought?
Yes. It was an object that my sister—who died in a car accident when she was very young—had made. It was a little bag for putting cigarettes inside. It was completely white. I still have it and treasure it so I can remember her life. During the performance I took it in between my hands and all these memories I had of my sister came back. It was not something I’d ever tell anybody about, but now I’ve told you. And that’s thanks to Annea Lockwood.
Those interested in contacting Moniek Darge can do so via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
50 Years of Logos, 50 Years of Experiment
50 Years of Logos, 50 Years of Experiment is a 117-page book & LP featuring full-color photographs and essays about the Logos Foundation. You can view the tracklist for the LP below. The book/LP costs €30 + shipping (which to the USA costs €25). Those interested in purchasing can do so by contacting email@example.com.
A1. Logos – Pneumaphone (excerpt) (2:04)
A2. Logos Duo (Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge) – Songbook (excerpt) (3:14)
A3. Xavier Verhelst Weer Nix (4:21)
A4. Laura Maes & Kristof Lauwers – Stereotaxie (excerpt) (2:36)
A5. Godfried-Willem Raes – Berichten en berechten (excerpt) (2:28)
A6. Logos Women (Barbara Buchowiec and Moniek Darge) – BasiaMo (1:57)
A7. Attr-X – The world is the message (3:27)
B1. Godfried-Willem Raes – Bellenorgel (excerpt) (1:49)
B2. Logos Duo (Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge) – Book of Moves (excerpt) (1:50)
B3. Moniek Darge – Budapest Soundie (4:45)
B4. Kris De Baerdemacker – Sonic Fantasy (5:33)
B5. Godfried-Willem Raes – Cues (excerpt) (6:56)
B6. Kristof Lauwers – One note no samba (5:36)
Every issue, Tone Glow provides download links to older, obscure albums that we believe deserve highlighting. Each download will be accompanied by a brief description of the album. Artists and labels can contact Tone Glow if you would like to see download links removed.
Logos - Pneumafoon Project (Igloo, 1987)
Pneumafoon Project features two longform tracks, both of which feel constantly tense, even during passages of relative calm. “Concerto Voor Pneumafoon En Orgel” swells and bubbles, shrouding the listener with a foreboding atmosphere, swamp-like in feel. Halfway through the track, organs and horns terrorize the space in manners both carnivalesque and astral, moments of which conjure up acousmatic horror. “Pneumafoon Project” is more of the same, though there are more opportunities here to experience the recording space’s vastness: you get a sense that these eerie sounds are inescapable. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Alison Knowles - Frijoles Canyon (¿What Next? Recordings, 1992)
I frequently think about Alison Knowles’s Proposition, which simply states that one should “Make a salad.” Such plainness (even the lack of a recipe!) is what makes it so interesting—any performance in an art space would imbue the everyday act with qualities not typically associated with it. Or, more accurately, such a performance allows listeners to be acutely aware of the distinct physical actions and sounds and smells and whatever else that accompanies banal lunch preparation. Frijoles Canyon has that same sort of effect: its titles, which detail objects (“Glide Hall Banister,” “Mechanical Saw”) and places (“On Orchard Street”), give insight into what’s being heard but there’s a quotidian mystique that shines through. Knowles’s recited text helps to carry that same almost-normal feeling: these tracks are familiar, calming, peculiar. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Adrian Rew - Slot Machine Music (Ergot Records, 2013)
Slot Machine Music remains one of the most notable field recording albums of the 2010s. Across three tracks—recorded at three casinos across America’s Midwest—Rew captures the dizzying allure of what is perhaps a sacred space for many. The first track is most transfixing: a constant stream of fluttering electronic blips that create a bedazzled atmosphere imbued with a false sense of luxury. This isn’t heaven or Las Vegas: it’s Cleveland, Ohio. “You just have to wait a minute mom, I know that’s hard for you,” says one woman. You can see how impatience is brewed from just the sonics alone.
The second track finds Rew demystifying the space, incorporating more general chatter and noise to make evident the plainness of it all. And in the final track, you only hear traces of those familiar slot machine synth melodies: a small taste of aural pleasure, like Rew’s teasing you of where you could be, presenting the ease with which any gambling addict could relapse. —Joshua Minsoo Kim
Every issue, Tone Glow has a panel of writers share brief thoughts on an album and assign it a score between 0 and 10. This section of the website is inspired by The Singles Jukebox.
Robert Haigh - Black Sarabande (Unseen Worlds, 2020)
Press Release info: Black Sarabande expands upon pianist-composer Robert Haigh’s beguiling debut for Unseen Worlds with a collection of intimate and evocative piano-led compositions. Haigh was born and raised in the ‘pit village’ of Worsbrough in South Yorkshire, England. His father, as most of his friends’ fathers, was a miner, who worked at the local colliery. Etched into Haigh’s work are formative memories of the early morning sounds of coal wagons being shunted on the tracks, distant trains passing, and walking rural paths skirting the barren industrial landscape.
Jordan Reyes: On the title track, Robert Haigh scatters soothing, straightforward piano across three minutes, showcasing his melodic modus operandi without hinting at the lushness present on tracks like “Stranger On The Lake” and “Painted Serpent.” The timing and melodies are comfortable and familiar—fitting for a church and the inside of a music box. Haigh does many things well—playing, composing, orchestrating—but he excels at creating and inhabiting a mood. On Black Sarabande, he shares a bemused curiosity, but one that imparts a nurturing and functional sensibility that’s open to wonder, joy, mystery, and rest.
Mark Cutler: These lovely if stolid compositions rarely surprise, barring the occasional dissonance of a flat note. Haigh once had a rare capacity for producing unsettling, almost labyrinthine works with just his piano. A simple and delicate ballad, for instance, would begin to sour, the melodies falling out of sync, as though played by a music box gradually chewing its own gears apart. The expanded sonic palette of this album seems to have distracted him from the compositions themselves. This is music that would scarcely sound out of place at a full service massage parlour.
Oskari Tuure: The official album description name-drops famous impressionists Satie and Debussy, and while there’s certainly a thread of impressionism running through the work, Haigh mostly focuses on more cinematic compositions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these tracks featured on a movie soundtrack somewhere. The slow buildup and atmospheric background instrumentation on “Ghosts of Blacker Dyke” feels like something straight out of an imaginary film, perhaps one that depicts the bleak reality of Haigh’s father toiling in the coal pits in a way similar to how There Will Be Blood depicted working at oil wells, whereas the very gentle crescendo of “Painted Serpent” might conceivably score a scene where a protagonist is having an unpleasant life epiphany. The compositions naturally lend themselves to these kinds of exercises in imagination.
But inversely, I half expect I could find many of these tracks on my mother’s Relaxing Piano Songs Spotify playlist. She would describe this as “meditation music,” the hallmarks of which she probably considers to be repetitive compositions and a tranquil atmosphere. And I’d be inclined to agree with her here, as that’s all that Black Sarabande essentially is. Relegating Haigh’s compositions to a class of music used for the simple purpose of meditation might be a bit harsh, but Black Sarabande is overall mediocre and unable to find anything new in the thoroughly explored space of ambient piano music.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’m most interested in how these tracks—most of which are akin to Haigh’s earliest works, albeit with better production value—are perfect for a plethora of video games (I’m reminded of numerous indie games that are mostly walking simulators with bare-bones puzzles, though I get the strong urge to listen to these calming tracks while grinding in games like MapleStory or Stardew Valley). As an album, Black Sarabande becomes too tedious a listening experience—the delicateness and Hallmark-poignance of these tracks are invigorating in the moment, but become cloying when taken in all at once. Given the simplicity of the compositions, the extraneous musical sounds that accompany the piano are welcome: without them, these tracks would devolve into Goldmund detritus. These tracks are vaporous, and I’d rather listen to them in a setting that bolsters that feeling.
Jeff Brown: The majority of this album is solo piano, beautiful ambience, and nuanced percussive and mechanical sounds. With a pair of headphones, the sound of the hammers are sometimes present, helping notes to blossom and wash away in reverb. The pace is akin to a light stroll, fit for a quiet early morning when there is little noise, no sense of urgency. Conversely, it’s appropriate for sitting quietly during a rainy afternoon. Sounds of trains clacking on tracks and a barking dog set a mood of introspection, of indulging in nostalgia. The album’s spirit and purity is a complex simplicity that elicits strong emotions. Many of the tracks on this album are under three minutes but there is no formula, no preset that can conjure this elusive quality—it is something that is tapped into and may be fleeting, but is nevertheless magnificent, like watching a meteor shower. The droning atmospheres are never intrusive or overpowering to the compositions, and instead create memory-like hazes. That these tracks are instrumental leaves much to interpretation, allowing them to be fresh with each listen. Haigh has created the rare album that has the intangible feeling of capturing an unseen force, of naming the unnameable and having the wisdom to hear its call.
Marshall Gu: If the title doesn’t make it clear, this is Robert Haigh’s umpteenth attempt at the spectral qualities of Erik Satie’s music; the sarabandes were dances originating from the Spanish colonies of Central America, but are slowed down to an undanceable tempo in Satie’s hands. He could perform miracles with just a few piano chords and nothing more; Haigh, however, gets the chords right but his compositions are bogged down by gimmicks: “Wire Horses” drowns a half-finished melody in echo, “Broken Symmetry” is a simple waltz but Haigh constantly goes off beat, and “Lady Lazarus” features Haigh stomping on the sustain pedal so loudly that it brings me out of the attic-like atmosphere he’s trying to evoke. There are three longer pieces that trace Satie’s lineage through to Harold Budd and Brian Eno’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, but the results are the same as the shorter ones: a forced atmosphere. All told, Satie was one of the quirkiest, most eccentric composers in classical music, yet everyone keeps playing the “Gymnopedies” over and over again and forgetting that fact.
Sunik Kim: As evidenced by the press release for Black Sarabande, work in this strain of “evocative solo piano” will inevitably be compared to the all-time greats: Harold Budd, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy. In its more-or-less consistent, middling tempo and melodic arpeggiations, Haigh’s album lacks the deeper, meditative thrum of Budd’s best work, which moves in varying clusters of motion and rhythm rather than with the very-slight modulation of a constant tempo heard in most of Black Sarabande. Even in the sparser moments (“The Secret Life of Air”), the all-too-familiar reverb on the piano adds very little to the composition, instead once again begging a comparison to Budd’s work on The Pearl—where the admittedly heavy reverb acts as an additional tonal element in its own right, weaving in and out of earshot.
In its muted palette and straightforward “one or two notes at a time” approach, Black Sarabande also lacks the tension and humor of Satie’s more energetic piano work, and the searching, melodic complexity of Debussy. On the spectrum of pure composition <-> pure texture in the post-Budd “solo piano” realm, Black Sarabande sits squarely, and blandly, in the middle: a deliberate push to either end of the spectrum would have resulted in a much fresher approach, one that doesn’t just sound like a grayer version of the aforementioned greats. There are a few strong melodies in here that are reminiscent of the best JRPG soundtracks, and highlight “Stranger on the Lake,” with its warped synths, sound like an Omni Trio anthem sent through Paulstretch; but I'd take the Chrono Cross OST over this pretty much any day of the week.
Gil Sansón: I admit to have a bias against new age music or anything that sounds like it. On one hand, I distrust a genre of music that sets such low standard in terms of craft, and the combination of low effort with lofty pretensions doesn’t sit well with me. Another aspect that irks me is the conservatism of the genre with regard to harmony and timbre (strange way to lift the spirit, to put it in a cage of very basic diatonic harmony). I can go on and on. Black Sarabande is not the record that is going to change my mind about the subject. Regardless of the intentions of the composer, the result is too high on sugar to be enjoyable by these ears. Satie this is not; as a listening experience it’s too musically impoverished. Music can be simple, no question about that. But this simplicity takes effort, of which little is in evidence here. On the contrary, a reliance on tried and tested tropes is the norm here (pianistic clichés, extremely predictable cello entrances, and so on).
On occasion one can hear a flash of unpredictability, nothing too fancy: only a minor harmonic ambiguity here and there, and the effect is like a breeze of fresh air. On such moments, the possibility of higher musical goals makes the music more endearing, more real (“Lady Lazarus,” “Progressive Music,” “The Secret Life Of Air”), and in those moments the music raises above the generic. Composers of this type of music grossly underestimate how difficult it is to achieve the level of simplicity they admire in say, Sakamoto, Budd, Satie. The implied game of reduction puts every musical defect to the fore—it may not be obvious to everyone but musicians know. This record by Robert Haigh shows talent in places, but not enough to lift it above the dime a dozen new age/ambient/neoclassical fodder.
Shy Thompson: One of the most important aspects of listening to music for me is the relationship that I develop between what I’m hearing and the space that I’m in when doing so. Often, that space is my bedroom where I like to feel my most comfortable, but while listening to Robert Haigh’s Black Sarabande, I felt like it was a little more appropriate to lace up my snow boots and go for a walk instead. Haigh’s work is a conversation with his memories of a certain place; a send-up to those feelings, and a musical retelling of those experiences. As I stomped through giant snow banks and tried not to slip on black ice, I thought about what this album might have sounded like if Haigh had lived here instead of the English mining town where he grew up, and why it sounds like that place and not this place.
Haigh’s piano compositions are spectral and evocative, but what makes this music have a strong relationship with physical spaces are the ambient sounds that remind me of things I may—or may not—have heard before. The creaking in the title track, which sounds like a wooden floor gently giving way to the weight of footsteps; the rickety sounds in “Ghosts of Blacker Dyke” that remind of lopsided wheels revolving along a track; the bird song and sounds of objects shifting in the breeze on “The Secret Life of Air”; and even the vague but descriptive titles like “Wire Horses” and “Painted Serpent” elicit the feeling of a loose recounting of memories. I don’t know what South Yorkshire is like, but Black Sarabande has given me a feeling; the picture I’ve sketched in my mind may not look like this place I’ve never been, but I know it looks different than where I’m standing.
Thank you for reading the fifth issue of the Tone Glow newsletter. Please be kind to each other.