David William Ross: Butterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence: Guitar Music of Georges Raillard

Georges Raillard is not only a music composer but a writer, too, and no mere dabbler at that: he's published in German (he has a university degree in foreign languages) short stories, articles, reviews, and books. Given such writerly inclinations, it makes sense that his musical works wouldn't be purely technical exercises but rather story-like settings that draw for inspiration from vivid personal experiences involving family, the natural world, and the Basil, Switzerland-born composer's own travels. And though the settings might, formally speaking, be classical works, they're not pieces of incredible complexity designed to showcase an instrumentalist's virtuosity; instead, each of the twelve compositions on Butterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence is relatively simple in construction and exudes an appealingly informal character.

Throughout the album, Raillard demonstrates a remarkable knack for translating imagination and memory into a musical form that enables the listener to experience the material vicariously. Drawing with unfailing taste upon the full arsenal of the acoustic guitarist, the classically trained David William Ross, who laid down the album in a Boston studio over two days in July 2016, utilizes strums, fingerpicking, pedal points, single-note melodies, and even (during “Patio”) raps on the guitar's body to give voice to the composer's world.

In liner notes accompanying the seventy-four-minute release, Raillard provides background detail that illuminates how each piece came into being. To compose “Shells on the Beach,” he drew upon summertime visits to Southwestern Spain where he would admire seashells at the beach in Punta Umbria; the high-spirited “Three Child's Plays for Selina,” on the other hand, was written as a Christmas present for his nine-year-old goddaughter who had just begun playing the violin. Programmatic details wend their way into the material in places: “Night Waves,” for instance, is punctuated by chords that suggest ocean waves crashing ashore, while a relentless rhythm grounds “Pacemaker” in a manner befitting the title. Splendidly brought to life by Ross, settings such as “Measuring Clouds” and “Summer Evening at the Rhine” require little more than their titles to suggest their origins, and in the latter, the splendour of a peaceful, night-time walk is conveyed so convincingly one can almost hear the murmur of the river's water.

While Butterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence is rich in mood and melody, many pieces could be described as introspective reflections rooted in personal biography; yet as delicate and restrained as the material often is, moments of dynamic force and energy also arise (e.g., “He Burst Out Laughing”). Many might know Raillard more for his writings, but Butterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence clearly shows he's no slouch in the composing department.

January 2017