Marcus Fischer’s “Public Works” was compiled for a Japanese tour that a shoulder injury unfortunately caused the Portland, Oregon-based artist to pull out of at the last minute. The album consists of five recordings of recent live performances, each one endearingly titled in the manner of episodes of Friends (‘The one where the bus drives by at the end’, ‘The one where we arranged all the chairs in a circle’). Fischer’s live sets generally follow in the ambient tradition of building up layers of loops, which give them quite a different sound to some of his studio work: less differentiation and changes of direction, more going with the flow. The interesting question is how to keep things sounding fresh and spontaneous within a limited structure.
Fischer constructs his loops using synth, zither, guitar, bells, and other small acoustic instruments, often using tape as the recording medium. Whatever their source, sounds often have a softness and indistictness to them that makes the loops seem less like recurrence and more like remembering. Tones and fragments of melody are indistinct in the way that, looking out to sea, boats and islands are indistinct on the edge of the horizon. At times, a mist rolls in off this sea, only to dissipate again; elsewhere, chiming notes rise like trees or pylons out of thick fog. It’s not all hazy though: towards the end of ‘the one where we arranged all the chairs in a circle’ the non-human world enters unexpectedly; on the last track, over a background hubbub that is soothing rather than distracting, synth chords spread like light through a cavern, and kids play the bells.
Something I really like about Fischer’s music is his decision to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity, whether by means of indistinct tones and melodies, the use of chance and randomness as compositional devices, or the integration of field recordings. It’s so easy to fall back on the definiteness of a regular beat or a clear-cut melody; choosing to remain in an uncertain place takes patience and nerve. The reward for making this choice isn’t just beautiful music, but music that resembles the world as we experience it, in both our daily lives and our inner yearnings. Such a world frequently declines to add up to a clear and definite location, rather existing with all the impreciseness of memory and sensory impression (and being all the more there for it). The painter Paul Cézanne might have called this world “Mont Sainte-Victoire”, after the mountain he painted again and again without arriving at a definitive version of it; for Fischer, it might be called “Cascadia”. In any case, “Public Works” strongly evokes it.
Read our 2012 interview with Marcus Fischer here.