Christopher Tignor: Along a Vanishing Plane
Western Vinyl

As I listen to Along a Vanishing Plane, I begin to wonder if there might not be some small amount of Scottish blood running through Christopher Tignor's veins. Many of the album's ten tracks exude the mournfulness characteristic of Scottish folk songs, the kind of wordless hymns one might hear at a wake commemorating the dearly departed. Admittedly the effect is attributable in part to the violin itself, given its capacity for suggesting the human voice and conveying heartache with such immediacy (interestingly, Tignor's expressive playing on this recording often suggests viola as much as violin, as witnessed, for example, by the opening part of “Artifacts of Longing”). Formally speaking, the genre in play is chamber classical, though labels fall to the wayside when the material pierces the heart so powerfully.

For anyone who can't get enough of his violin playing, Along a Vanishing Plane might include more of it than any of his recordings to date. The reason for that is simple: he recorded the material live and unaccompanied, and consequently the violin is front and center, though augmented in real time by tuning forks and percussion. To create Along a Vanishing Plane, Tignor eschewed overdubbing and live looping though did use self-created software that enabled him to apply real-time processing to the sounds produced. It is a solo recording, then, but one that often simulates the playing of a close-knit chamber outfit featuring organ, strings, and percussion players.

As a solo artist and leader of Slow Six, the long-time New Yorker and one-time assistant to LaMonte Young has produced marvelous material before but nothing perhaps quite as beautiful as the “wordless hymns and pulsing harmonic frameworks” (Tignor's own words) on Along a Vanishing Plane. The largely elegiac tone of the project is established at the outset by “We Keep This Flame,” a majestic lilt that sees him punctuating the string melodies and amplifying the music's drama with bass drum.

There are occasions when non-violin sounds figure prominently, such as when the chime of the tuning fork acts as a guiding element during “One Eye Blue, One Eye Black (Blue),” but it's the settings dominated by violin that have the greatest impact. That's especially so when poignant themes in settings such as “Arrow in the Dark” and “Dead Letter Library” are voiced by Tignor with such uncommon depths of feeling, and his playing in the second part of “Artifacts of Longing,” arguably the album's most stirring piece, could break your heart all by itself.

Incidentally, the project was conceived as both a musical collection and video album, with Sara Kinney on board to capture the performances live, and in keeping with the double-vinyl presentation, interstitial footage has been included between the four album sides to reflect the spirit of the LP format. Regardless of whether it's experienced as a video presentation or in purely musical terms, Along a Vanishing Plane impresses as a magnificent addition to an already sterling discography.

September 2016