Michael Pisaro / Håkon Stene & Kristine Tjøgersen: asleep, street, pipes, tones

It's fitting that the names of Håkon Stene and Kristine Tjøgersen are displayed almost as prominently as Michael Pisaro's on this release's cover. Though its electro-acoustic contents were composed by the Buffalo, New York-born Pisaro, its realization is critically determined by the attentive rendering given it by Norwegian musicians and asamisimasa members Stene and Tjøgersen. Composed of four parts, the hour-long asleep, street, pipes, tones presents a restrained soundworld whose parts advance glacially, so much so that even the tiniest gesture attracts attention and assumes the dramatic weight a louder flourish would have in another context.

Indicative of the artistic sensibility in play, Pisaro recounts in the liner notes (referring to the second part, street) how the initially distracting sounds of vehicles driving down the busy avenue where he lives grew into something pleasurable. As he listened carefully, awareness of each one's unique sound character began to emerge—one audibly in need of a muffler repair, for instance, and another rattling conspicuously—with such differentiation prompting Pisaro to pronounce, “The mundane always has something of the supernatural.” In that regard, the accompanying press text isn't off-the-mark in declaring the work's primary subject “the processes of how we receive and apprehend sound and music.”

The 2009-composed work was recorded during 2016 and pairs Stene's electric guitars, bowed piano, and field recordings with Tjøgersen's bass and contrabass clarinets. While instrument sounds sometimes retain their distinguishing character—Tjøgersen's especially—more often than not the material assumes an abstract quality that allows the listener to experience the seventeen parts as pure sound; reinforcing that tendency, those produced by the clarinet are often single, unwavering pitches set off from one another by extended pauses. Soft organ-like tones glisten alongside Tjøgersen's low-pitched clarinet or sometimes alone, droning like the gentle rise-and-fall of a sleeping body or the thrum of an insect colony at night; the sound field is so evenly defined that one can't help be taken aback when a lulling bass drone is smeared by loud organ chords in “XIII” or a choral sample surfaces during “XV.” Rare for this recording, “X” largely centers on clarinet-and-guitar interplay with little else added to the mix.

Yes, the Doppler effect produced by an automobile passing by does appear, but in far greater number are granular swathes of haze and industrial murmurings whose origins resist easy identification; subtle modifications in dynamics, such as the one that sees “VIII + IX” escalate threateningly in intensity, also prove engaging. In limiting the sound design to a modest number of elements, Pisaro, Stene, and Tjøgersen succeed in strengthening the listener's attunement to the details in play, and as slow-moving as the work generally is, it's no less interesting for being so.

September 2017