I'm happy to announce that Other Music has finally begun stocking releases on the Gravity Wave label, run by and devoted primarily to the works of composer Michael Pisaro. Pisaro is perhaps best known to enthusiasts of contemporary composition as a member of the Wandelweiser collective, an international group of composers who share the common bond of exploring and integrating the sounds of silence into their works. Their music is of a different sort of minimalism than the more rhythmic styles more commonly associated with that term, and while Pisaro has a great number of works under his belt, this most recent, breathtaking piece is perhaps the best entry point for the uninitiated listener. The Middle of Life draws upon many of the most common elements of Pisaro's work; the single 48-minute piece blends field recordings, sine waves and quiet electronic tone generation, and sparse, gentle acoustic instrumentation. This work adds something more, however: the human voice. The Middle of Life draws upon the words of author Oswald Egger's 742-page poem Die Ganze Zeit, and Egger himself recites the bulk of the recitation in a calm voice that pans, fades, acknowledges and then disregards the sonic environment created around him by Pisaro.
There are other vocalists in the first section of the piece, among them experimental figureheads Taku Sugimoto and Graham Lambkin, as well as the voice of Julia Holter, who was a student of Pisaro's and a regular collaborator of his before making a name of her own with her recent solo albums. Holter plays a larger role here as well, as she not only provides both spoken recitation and wordless vocal harmonies, but also composed the piano motif that Pisaro plays during the piece's end section. It's both a new context for Holter fans to appreciate her talent, yet as a whole something that also makes perfect sense next to the overarching thematic concept and radio-drama pop of her Tragedy album. Pisaro's piece is no pop fare, though; rather, it falls in line contextually more with composers like Robert Ashley, whose innovative fusion of recitative text and sound design is very beautifully executed here. The piece is quite calming, even during moments when the electronic sine tones are at their most audible, and while most of the text IS in fact in German, from a purely textural and aesthetic perspective, Egger's foreign recitation offer no distraction. Rather, his gentle anecdotal tone pulls you in deeper, often making the piece's duration feel as though it is moving much more quickly than has actually occurred. When Holter's vocal harmonies softly emerge in the stereo spectrum at the start of the final third of The Middle of Life, the isolation that thematically ties each participant's spoken voice together in the piece has washed over the listener as well. It is a gorgeous, flawless work by a composer who deserves much more attention in the wider listening world; hopefully with the release of this stunning CD, Pisaro will be making his way into your world as well. To my ears, it's without question one of the best, most relevant works of composition to see release thus far in 2013.
-Mikey IQ Jones (January 30, 2013)