Michael Pisaro - Fields Have Ears (at37)


I have been particularly fascinated with piano sounds since I was a young child. However, at the same time, I have always felt some sort of tightness in most of the piano performances I have heard in the past. I did not know why I felt that way until recently, when I realized that what slightly bothered me was something to do with the composer's or the performer's particular color directly attached to the piano sounds. The rather solid and vertical impression of the appearance of a piano sound, and the way it vibrates when resonating, tends to be easily in tune with the composer and the performer's strong statements or artistic vibrations. But of course, a majority of music listeners prefer the opposite way - to appreciate the distinctive colors (or personalities) of the composers and performers in piano pieces as one of the main purposes of their music listening (and perhaps that is supposed to be the common way to listen to music in a conventional sense). But for some reason, I often felt a little uncomfortable with that, regardless of how deeply I was moved by the music.

Michael Pisaro's piano pieces have never made me feel that way. His piano compositions contain a feeling of freedom, and have no particular color of the composer or the performer attached to the sounds. Instead of confining a listener within a small individual universe of the composer or the performer, Pisaro's piano pieces seem to take the listener to another dimension or another space - with some mystic power of induction, beyond the limited space that the solid, vertical texture of the piano sounds generally tend to create. In Pisaro's piano pieces, the composer and performer's personal voices are not on the center stage. Instead, the landscape of the piece that is woven with elastic time and space becomes a leading part, given a new life by means of the performer's piano sounds, and begins to breathe like a vital organism. The landscape becomes music.

Michael Pisaro's 'Fields Have Ears', just released from Another Timbre this November, consists of Pisaro's three compositions, each featuring piano. The first track, 'Fields Have Ears 1', a 20-minute piece composed for piano and tape in 2008, consisting of a piano, field recordings, sine tones and noises. The piece starts with Pisaro's field recordings of some peaceful nature scene with chirps of birds, distant low-key sounds of a landscape, muffled noises of airplanes over the clouds, with quiet hiss noises from tape underneath. In the midst of this calm, horizontal soundscape, Philip Thomas plays piano tones one by one, slowly forming a lyrical melody like gently dropping watercolors in tranquil water - with thoughtfulness for leaving each color as pure as possible without causing a chaotic cloud. While containing a firm core in each note, Thomas' piano sounds are never too hard nor too soft, and seem to be blended into the field recordings with remarkable naturalness like a wind, as if they are gradually stretching the landscape to many directions. When the piano stops and a silence prevails in the middle of the piece, the sounds of the fields - the rhythmical chirps of the bird and the continuous low-key sounds of the distant landscape - start to feel as if they have imperceptibly become crucial parts of the music. The quiet piano sounds and their long resonances, combined with the ample time of contemplative silences, seem to affect how the flow of time is perceived and impart an infinite profoundness to the music.

Thomas' piano playing seems to have a silent power to draw a listener into the landscape of the music before he/she knows. Breathing together with the landscape, his pure, delicate piano tones gradually penetrate deep into the listener's mind, without impetuousness to cut through the landscape with a sharp edge, or forcefulness to try to move the music forward. While listening to his piano amongst the field recording sounds, I found myself being deeply involved in the soundscape that was woven with somehow unrealistic senses of time and space. The stillness of the power in this piece makes an impressive contrast with the dynamic power in Pisaro's 'July Mountain' in which the thick layers of various soundscapes intertwined with percussion sounds grab the listener into the music instantly and intensely, while both of the pieces involved similar field recording sounds.

The second track 'Fade' is a 20-minute piece composed for solo piano in 2000. This is a very simple piece, in which Philip Thomas plays a single piano tone several times with a lengthy silence in between. The volume of the piano tones slowly diminishes over the course of each sequence. The pattern of the sequence is repeated with different pitches and a different number of keystrokes each time, followed by a silence of different length. Sometimes, the single tone is layered with another tone during the sequence. In spite of this simple structure in which just single piano tones and silences are repeated alternately, there is a strong, silent magnetic power, pulling the listener gradually into the music. The way each piano tone fades, one after another, while overlapping its long resonance subtly toward the fade-out ending of each sequence, creates a surreal sense of a changing distance as if the landscape I am watching in front of me is slowly receding.

The silence between each sequence of piano sounds seems to contain some sort of extraordinary pureness of the air - which evokes in me the solemn clean air after hearing the midnight temple bells on New Year's Eve in Japan. In the depth of the contemplative silence, time feels stopped momentarily. As time goes by while the piano tones are played repeatedly, the memories of the previous piano tones are gradually piling up in my brain, just like snowflakes pile up slowly, making each silence feel even thicker.

The third track 'Fields Have Ears 4' was composed in 2009 originally for four performers but realized by an ensemble of 14 performers in this piece, including Philip Thomas (piano), Patrick Farmer (natural objects), Sarah Hughes (zither) and Dominic Lash (double bass). The ensemble starts to play after 30 seconds of silence, making various sounds and noises for 40 seconds, and then pauses for 20 seconds. After the pause, another sequence is repeated with a slightly different combination of musicians for a different duration, followed with a different length of pause. This sequence is repeated 17 times in 27 minutes in the whole piece, with the duration of each sequence ranging from 5 to 150 seconds, and the duration of each pause ranging from 5 to 60 seconds.

Even though there are 14 instruments and tools involved in this piece - piano, natural objects, zither, double bass, laptop, conical blow horn, slide whistle, spring drum, trumpet, cymbal, melodica, cello, frog guero and clarinet, the resulting sounds from the whole ensemble are incredibly delicate and quiet. Even when a different combination of the musicians starts to play, the tone and the volume of the whole sounds are consistently sustained at the same level - with the obscurity of a hidden stream of underground water, containing complex subtle nuances from different instruments at the same time. The mystic atmosphere of the soundscape reminds me of Robert Ashley's 'Automatic Writing' where reality and unreality seem to cross over. The whole body of the sounds, which resembles the sounds of fields, is so perfectly fused together that it starts to feel as if they have one life. With great subtlety and discreetness, the ensemble's sounds gradually seem to become transparent like the wind or the subtle moves of air, which emphasizes the intense presence of each silence. The surreal feel of inversion between sounds and silences - as if the sky and the ground were flipped - is an impressive characteristic of this piece.

As the CD title seems to hint, the landscapes (field recordings and silences) in these three pieces seem to be given life like a living organism, while the performers stay behind the landscapes as if they became parts of the scenes. Not like conventional pieces in which the performer takes the main role and the landscape becomes a background, the boundary between two distinct positions - performers and the landscape - becomes vague in these pieces, and sometimes their positions are flipped. It is very interesting to observe how all the elements - performed sounds, silences, field recording sounds, and hiss noises from tape - start to form one landscape where every element is equally present to breathe together. Philip Thomas' and the ensemble's performances on this CD are both brilliant. They have succeeded in expressing the elastic feel of time and space and mystic nuances of Pisaro's compositions with extremely delicate touches and thoughtfully restrained expressions that have never gone too far. The careful work in sound engineering by the label owner Simon Reynell is remarkable, too - it brings out the simple beauty of each piece in a natural manner. This is a CD that may not leave you with a vivid impact during the first listen, but will pull you into the music as you listen to it repeatedly – gradually seeping into your subconsciousness with a silent, strong magnetism.

■ Michael Pisaro - Fields Have Ears (at37)



「Fields Have Ears」(at37)の1曲目「Fields Have Ears 1」は、ピサロが2008年に作曲したピアノとフィールドレコーディングとサイン音で構成された20分間の曲だ。冒頭は、鳥のさえずりや、山の音を思わせる鈍い低音や、雲の上を通りすぎる飛行機の音などのフィールドレコーディング音で始まる。水平的な広がりを感じさせる平穏な音風景の中に、フィリップ・トマスが演奏するピアノの音が一音ずつ、ゆっくりと丁寧に水滴を落としていくかのように、静かに旋律を奏でていく。けっして硬質すぎず、かといって柔らかすぎない、丸みの中にもどこか芯をもったトマスのピアノの音は、 風景をあらゆる方向へと徐々に広げていく風のような自然さで、音風景の中に溶け込んでいる。ピアノが鳴り止み、沈黙の間が広がると、フィールドレコーディングのリズミカルな鳥のさえずりや、持続的に全体を貫く山鳴りの音が、いつしか音楽を構成する要素の一部として聴こえていることに気づく。長い余韻を残しつつ静かに語りかけるようなピアノの音と、その合間に入る長く瞑想的な沈黙の間が、時間の流れを徐々にゆっくりと引き延ばし、永遠を感じさせる奥深い時間感覚を生んでいる。

フィリップ・トマスのピアノの音には、フィールド音の風景を劇的に変えるというよりも、風景と共に呼吸し、その中にリスナーを気づかぬうちにゆっくりと引き込んでいくような静かなパワーがある。そこには、風景を切り裂くような唐突さや、音楽を一定の方向へ動かしていくような強引さは全くない。その繊細で澄んだ音は、聴き手の心の深い水たまりに、少しずつ浸透していき、聴き手である自分も、いつの間にかその独特の音風景の時間と空間の中に深く入り込んでいることに気づく。音風景がダイナミックな渦のように展開して強烈なインパクトを生み、聴き手を瞬時にその世界へ引き込んでいった「July Mountain」の動的なパワーとは対照的な、静的なパワーが印象的だ。



3曲目の「Fields Have Ears 4」は、ピサロが2009年に作曲した4人の演奏家のための曲。ここでは、フィリップ・トマス(ピアノ)、パトリック・ファーマー(自然界の素材)、サラ・ヒューズシタール)、ドミニク・ラッシュ(ダブルベース)を含む14人の演奏家から成るアンサンブルによって具現化されている。冒頭では、30秒の間の後に演奏が始まり、40秒間演奏を続けた後に、20秒の沈黙の間が入る。このシークエンスが、毎回少しずつ違う組み合わせの演奏者により、17回繰り返される。それぞれのシークエンスでの演奏時間と沈黙の間の長さは毎回違う(演奏の長さは5秒から2分30秒、間の長さは5秒から60秒。)


「Fields Have Ears」というCDタイトルが示唆するように、ここでの3曲では、無人の風景(沈黙やフィールドレコーディング音)が命をもつ有機体のような存在感をもって立ち現れ、演奏者はあたかもその風景の一部となったかのように、控えめに佇んでいる。通常は演奏音の背後に控えがちな環境音や沈黙と、主役になりがちな演奏者という別々の立場の境界線が、ここでは曖昧となり、環境音も沈黙も演奏音も等しい存在感を放ちつつ、伸縮する生命体のような一つの音風景を構成しているのが興味深い。フィリップ・トマスのピアノ演奏とアンサンブルの演奏も、これらのピサロの作曲作品がもつスケールの広がりと神秘的かつ繊細なニュアンスを、行き過ぎない表現と丁寧なタッチで見事に表現している。レーベル主宰者サイモン・レイネルによるサウンド・エンジニアリングも、各々の作品の美しさを自然かつ印象的に引き立たせていて素晴らしい。初めて聴いた時には、さほど強いインパクトが残らないが、何度か繰り返して聴いているうちに、徐々に聴き手の潜在意識に浸透していき、確実にその世界へと引き込んでいくような、静かな、しかし強い磁力をもつ作品集だ。