Greg Haines: Until the Point of Hushed Support
Sonic Pieces

Though I was familiar with Greg Haines' debut Slumber Tides (Miasmah, 2006), I'll confess I was taken aback by the uncommon beauty of his follow-up Until the Point of Hushed Support—not that I should be all that surprised, given that it's issued on Sonic Pieces. It's an ambitious project by the England-born and now Berlin-based composer that deploys string quintet, church organ, piano, percussion, and electronics as sonic resources for a forty-eight-minute work. Like recent Sonic Pieces recordings by Nils Frahm and Dustin O'Halloran, Until the Point of Hushed Support was recorded at the Grunewald Church in Berlin with Haines, in fact, assisted by Frahm. Haines enhanced the material recorded by the live musicians with processed sounds, which were played back into the church and re-recorded to deepen the material's natural character. While the uninterrupted four-part piece moves through numerous episodes and features extreme dynamic contrasts (an approach familiar to listeners of Kancheli, Gorecki, and Pärt), its overall mood might be described as devotional (even if no religious dimension is present) and the style close in spirit to the 'holy minimalism' genre.

“Industry vs. Inferiority” starts the album almost tentatively with sparse piano sprinkles that are so soft they could go unnoticed with the stereo's volume down. The recording springs into life when emotive string playing opens “Marc's Descent,” after which the work's second part dramatically merges funereal portent and mournful supplication in an elegiac mix of church organ, wordless vocals, and death-tolling percussion. The fourteen-minute “In the Event of a Sudden Loss” initially scales the sound field back to a staggered array of electronic and acoustic instrument tones before the resources pool themselves into a slowly ascending mass, with the violins' singing cry at the forefront and music box tinkling in the background. The work's experimental electronic side emerges in the closing title track when electronic squiggles inaugurate its eighteen-minute run. They're gradually supplanted by a glorious episode of rising strings that provides the album's most stirring and transcendant moment. After the music's dramatic swell makes clear that the work's climax has been reached, the piece returns to the piano-based quietude from which it set forth. Pressed to name an analogical figure after hearing the recording, one would cite Arvo Pärt as the obvious choice, as Haines' composing style often echoes the stark profundity of Pärt pieces (Tabula Rasa as an album whole and Fratres in particular come to mind). That such a connection declares itself doesn't take anything away from the beauty of Haines' remarkable recording, however.

April 2010