Christopher Tignor: Thunder Lay Down in the Heart
Christopher Tignor's development as a composer, musician, and conceptualist takes another step forward on Thunder Lay Down in the Heart, the second full-length issued under his own name and the follow-up to 2009's Core Memory Unwound. And while it is a solo release as opposed to an outing by one of the outfits with which he's associated, Slow Six and Wires Under Tension, it's hardly one that excludes the involvement of others. Tignor's music often plays like formal classical composition charged with indie-rock energy; in that regard, it's worth noting that in addition to his classical training and academic background, Tignor at one time mixed live sound for acts at the New York clubs Brownies and the now-defunct CBGB's. He's also applied his computer science studies toward developing software for processing sounds, software that's in turn been incorporated into his music-making. Put that all together and you've got a rich mine from which to draw, the result of which clearly shows itself during the recording's forty-four minutes.
The opener, “A Boy,” not only takes its inspiration from a 1956 poem by John Ashbery but also features the Pulitzer Prize winner reading the poem against a keening string backdrop provided by Tignor's violin and Michael Unterman's cello. Though brief, it's a stirring and crepuscular setting that one might mistake for a Kronos Quartet piece were it presented as part of a blindfold test. A natural through-line is created from “A Boy” to the three-part, twenty-minute setting that follows, with a line from the poem being selected as the title of the composition as well as the album title. A bravura work for string orchestra, electronics, and drums, “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart” is realized by the Boston-based string orchestra A Far Cry, Wires Under Tension drummer Theo Metz, and Tignor, who's credited with memory machines. It's here, specifically in the first part, where we witness his bold marriage of classical playing and electronics, with the flutter of the former accompanied by a babbling brook generated by the latter. In part one, Persian-tinged string melodies establish a dream-like character, after which ostinato patterns appear to introduce a minimalism flavour before drumming adds a heavier kick; minimalism's spirit bleeds over into the second part, this time inflected with a post-rock feel courtesy of the drum patterns, while the third opts for a nachtmusik feel, with string shudders again invoking minimalism, this time of the Reich-styled kind (with ties to LaMonte Young and Philip Glass part of his personal history, Tignor comes by his minimalism connection honestly, by the way).
At this stage of the recording, the aforementioned through-line reappears again albeit in different form, with a solo Tignor electronically reinterpreting the title piece into “The Listening Machines” and “To Draw a Perfect Circle.” Working from the tapes of the collective's rendering of “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart,” Tignor generates two remixes, the first of which pulsates at full steam for eleven dramatic minutes and the second a rather less bruising yet still hypnotic reverie by comparison. Perpetuating that plaintive tone, the album's closing piece sees Tignor and Rachel Grimes (of Rachel's renown) collaborating on “First, Impressions,” a remix of “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart I” that focuses its attention primarily on the original's exotic melodies.
In the past, the New York-based violinist has shown himself to be a generous soul in contributing violin playing and string arranging (both live and in the studio) to This Will Destroy You, John Congleton's Nighty Nite, and Lymbyc Systym, and obviously carries on the tradition by involving multiple others in the creative process on this latest excellent collection. Returning to where we started, Ashbery's poem includes a father saying to his son, “My child, I love any vast electrical disturbance.” Certainly characterizing Thunder Lay Down in the Heart as a “vast electrical disturbance” of its own particular kind wouldn't be too far off the mark.