Christopher Tignor

Thunder Lay Down In the Heart

Written in 1956, the poem ‘A Boy’ by Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Ashbery introduces Thunder Lay Down In the Heart. Tignor recorded Ashbery himself as he recited the poem, which was read aloud from his Chelsea apartment, and it makes for an exciting and rare collaboration. On top of this, the strings swell, and despite the fact that these are the only words on an otherwise instrumental album, Thunder Lay Down In the Heart has plenty to say.

Boston ensemble A Far Cry create some shady, dramatic scenes within the music; the stringed orchestra provides the darker side to the poetry’s rosy opening. The title piece is narrated in three movements, and along with the strings a constant swirl of electronics can be heard, floating above and blending with the heated percussive flares. It’s a frenzied introduction that mirrors sharply the soft, swaying rhythm of the poem and its vocal delivery. The strings create striking, incisive rhythms, moving from one separate, inner phrase to another. The drum then kicks in, setting a faster pace that in turn helps to raise the stakes.

It is dramatic music, cinematic in sound, which may in fact stem from Tignor’s earlier experience as a sound engineer. Tignor knows when to use the right amount at the right time, and the right kind of weight for the right occasion. Not only is he highly adept at sound engineering; he has also lent his skills as a string arranger to panoramic band This Will Destroy You, both live and in the studio –  a band who are similarly drenched in emotional euphoria with their propulsive passages, softer interludes and introspective melodies that take the music to another level. The natural timbre of every instrument, in particular the raw, authentic sound of the drums, is essential to the music’s well-being. Electronic sequences squirm just underneath the surface, and the electronic textures bleed dreamily into the strings, creating some kind of alternate world where everything is just slightly (and pleasantly) off balance.  The wash fades out, leaving only the strings and their frenetic activity. Then, all of a sudden and without warning, Tignor puts the brakes on, and the first part grinds to a halt.

The second part gently opens, springing to life with a temperamental beat, pumping in slow bursts as if it were a relaxed heartbeat. There are at least four different rhythms, or rhythmic fragments, working their way through the second movement. The music stays classically minded, but the ultimate movement and the subsequent climax shares more than a strand of post-rock’s DNA. The third movement is glacially slow, a kind respite where the strings are allowed to spread out and stretch their wings. Longer notes have longer, smooth tails which then descend into beautifully round, stable drones.

‘The Listening Machines’ and ‘To Draw A Perfect Circle’ are re-imaginings of the title piece. An electronic pulse stabs out the rhythm bravely, almost violently, and the slightly dissonant edge seems to suggest the presence of malevolent machinery. It clanks and grinds, rusting at the corners, with every acidic pulse gnawing slowly away at the vulnerable strings. Ditching the beat, ‘To Draw A Perfect Circle’ shimmers low to the ground. Shards of light, dusty crystals shoot out of the track in a colourful fountain, looking more like Skittles to the naked eye than anything else.

Coda ‘First, Impressions’ (with composer and pianist Rachel Grimes) is a short, sweet goodbye. Coming out the other side and into the silence feels like some long awaited emergence; driving out of the tunnel and into the light. The strings lend a heavy, thick atmosphere that obscures any prospect for the light to return, smothering and caressing in equal measure and an atmosphere that is hard to extinguish, let alone run away from. It is a struggle, but when the shadows sound this good you won’t mind daybreak being delayed.

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