Music For Piano & Patience
Loops are, by their very essence, stuck in a tight, constricted space, left alone to play their endless music. The loop is an exercise in repetition, where the timid use of space and the sober confines help us to see who they really are and what they have to say. It’s up to the musician to make the most out of the minimal set up. For the most part, creativity shines through, beaming out of the loop in a never-ending circle of light. Once seen as a potential restriction, the loop now becomes limitless.
Sure, the unsteady, distorted warble of the melody may seem like a repetition, but within that repetition is a genuine, slow-burning progression. Nothing is repeated – music teaches us that one moment is never the same as another. The loop gives a subtle illusion of time travel, but in reality the music is always moving forward; the seconds are giving way to minutes. Uniquely, the unlimited loop (it could loop this musical phrase forever) is limited in its scope (it could loop this forever, but it is only a musical phrase). Pretty cool, huh?
The life of a loop has a countdown that comes into effect the second after it is born. A loop, then, does not laze itself away in luxury. It’s in a constant race against the clock, the remainder of its life oozing away after every note. Nowhere else in music does a note matter more than in a loop, because it has to spill what it wants to say, and it has to do it fast. It misses out on an indulgent rock n’ roll lifestyle – there is no instrumental excess – skipping the chance for variety as it repeats its cherished melody over and over (on the other hand, it could be argued that a consistently repeating loop has a tendency to indulge, just by repeating itself). Whichever way you look at it, the loop can still mature, able to articulate itself just as brightly as any other kind of music.
Ithaca Trio, the project of Oliver Thurley, is a safe ambient harbour. The calming loop is meditative in its repetition, the deep-seated, sunken melody surfacing again and again. Ambient in nature, the piano loops revolve steadily, run through reel-to-reel, degrading – or ageing – the longer they live. The Disintegration Loops taught us that even loops will die; they have a million past lives.
It is a natural process – perhaps the most natural process of them all – that our youth-obsessed culture strives to hide or at least keep at bay, smothered under a mask of mascara and make up in order to find social acceptance, slaves to cosmetics. In thirty years, the lipstick will become a psychotic smear, worn by a hollow-eyed skeleton of seduction, with the intent on gaining some much needed attention from the boys.
“Do you think I’m pretty? Tell me I’m pretty”
The tape, too, wrinkles with age, creasing at the sides, its skin caught. ‘Lepidoptera, pt. II’, with its fluid piano loop, is serene in its motion, as if it were a kind of water music. Slight modulations and pitch-warps provide a reminder that this is not some kind of pre-recorded loop, but one that is alive and, from time to time, unstable. Fluctuations have a real authentic air to them; it’s the sound of an old personal video, rewinding and then playing back on a dusty black VCR. It has the aesthetic of an old, yet beloved cassette tape, decaying in the deck. The loop sucks the high-end out of the piano, muffling the already deep tone, but the tranquil timbre is still able to descend over the loop.
Shimmering loops rise to the surface, keeping still in their quietude as they are submerged and then suffocated by a muffled, dirty reel of tape. The ceaseless loop creates its own hypnotic rhythm. Hushed and introverted, the notes begin to chime together, overlapping and jumping ahead of their siblings in what could be the morning ringing of Sunday Church bells.
Music For Piano & Patience ages with grace, unwrapping itself loop after loop. One loop ends and the circle begins again, an indistinct, sustaining life echoing throughout the ages. The dry crackle and the airy hiss give the music a real warmth. The little details really add up, especially when dealing with minimal music.
‘Just Skin’ seems to develop more than its predecessor. The black piano loops into infinity, and a healthy smattering of reverb pours out of the loop, casting a golden rainbow in the sky. A couple of thin chimes loop their way in, leaving the music to bathe in an eerie, supernatural afterglow. A sudden dip in pitch almost rewinds the piano and reverts it back to its original melodic womb. The flushed drone is warm, glowing in the background.
The piano fades into the distance, and you wonder just when exactly that happened. The final eight minutes are truly stunning; the patience is thoroughly rewarded. The beginning of the thirty five minute track held the piano closely. In its infancy, it was as healthy and as wide-eyed as the boy Bambi. At its end, the piano is a distant, garbled remnant of what it once was; it’s close to going full circle.