Camerata C4, 2013, CD & DD album, 30m 41s
$0+ DD $? CD (no distribution information available)
The artist Michael Skrtic is not someone I know anything about, but his cover for this album of music dedicated to him is certainly an extraordinary piece of work. References to the man are few in cyberspace, but he is the co-author of a book entitled Selections from the Dream Manual: An Aesthetic Grimoire and Compendium of Magical Art. I shall shamelessly jump to all manner of conclusions from the title of said work, without ever having looked inside it… or rather, I won’t, but I will note that surrealistic, dream-like imagery is clearly a part, at least, of the man’s creative practice. The nature of Tom DePlonty’s relationship with him is uncertain (I could ask DePlonty, but I prefer to base my reviews on the material that’s volunteered); I couldn’t begin to speculate whether the music is directly inspired by his work or person, or whether it is dedicated to him on the basis of a personal friendship. The album’s various compositions encompass a range of radically varied approaches to music (on a superficial level at least), and it’s easy to draw a connection between that diversity and the selection of tools with which the digits in Skrtic’s cover collage are tipped; collage itself is the quintessential surrealist art-form, and there is a collagist feel to the way different sounds are combined to make this album. DePlonty is a pianist, but as a composer he seems as comfortable with electronic and other methods, as evidenced here and in his work with Tim Risher under the Paragaté banner; however, although there is a great deal of contrast between some of these six pieces, the effect is far from jarring.
The album opens and closes with angular piano pieces, both of which establish their own terms of engagement with regard to rhythm and melody: the opening ‘The Art of Manliness’ is devoid of any stable pulse or tonal centre, organising itself around the layering of three independent lines; the closing ‘La grande sonnerie’ skirts more closely around the fringes of tonality and cyclicity, but it is also an assemblage of several independent parts, and much of its interest lies in the unpredictable manner in which they intersect. In stark contrast, the second piece on the album, ‘La petite sonnerie’ (which shows no more evidence of the usual characteristics associated with that term than does ‘La grande sonnerie’) is a gentle ambient piece, formed from the ebb and flow of smooth, swelling synth pads; ‘Letter and Word’ begins as a predominantly non-tonal piece of musique concrète, and the tonal elements that enter in the second half are presented as though they were found sounds, no more or less interesting than any other. None of the music on the album is especially complicated, and there is a sense in which ideas are separated, and allowed to state themselves in relative isolation before another is presented; in a way, the pronounced differences between successive pieces assist the listener in taking each on its own terms, with minimal overlap in terms of their their material character.
This makes the experience of the album as a whole something like that of reading a collection of poetry, with a pronounced pause and metaphorical palate-cleansing between each exposition. This is in contrast to the way in which many albums offer themselves to the listener, as a single episodic composition, or as a tissue of sonic continuities (in terms of the ensemble sound, production values, or whatever characteristics may apply). On Music For Michael Skrtic we are not encouraged to form expectations on the basis of what has gone before; instead we are invited to keep our ears and mind wide open, to suspend the act of interpretation and to receive the work in a spirit of acceptance. In this sense the album is unlike visual collage, where disjuncture is emphasised, and elements are crammed into proximity, demanding a singular reading, as does the entirely coherent image on the album cover. Indeed, it would have been easy enough to sell me on the idea that these six pieces were the work of several different composers, although, knowing that they are all DePlonty, his fingerprints are all over them. So if the record does not present one clear, singular image of itself, how does it ‘work’? It presents a variety of compositional approaches in an ordered narrative, beginning and ending with experimental piano pieces, interspersing moments of calm with episodes of high activity, periods of tonality with intervals of non-tonality, and gradually introducing a sense of human agency: ‘La Grande Sonnerie’, with which the album closes, is no less exploratory than ‘The Art Of Manliness’, but the piano sound is ‘natural’, not prepared or processed as on the earlier piece, and the flow of notes is decidedly pianistic. It’s the sound of an artist, physically at work, an although I think this album is too complex to have ‘a’ meaning or message, one of the things that DePlonty is telling us is that abstraction and artistic expression are not simple, either-or matters. The CD’s final sounds are unambiguously beautiful, and they instigate a retrospective alertness to the beauty in the earlier pieces’ least compromising moments. This is, as I’d expect from Tom DePlonty, a powerful, thought provoking and rewarding release.