How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky?
When I first listened to Magnus Granberg’s hour-long piece of music “How Deep is the Ocean, How High is the Sky?”, I thought it strange how the title suggested vertical measures, and yet the music itself presented a surface that my senses perceived as being somehow horizontal. The volume of the piece remains quiet throughout; notes are plucked or struck and allowed to decay (if from a stringed instrument or percussion), or held for a long time (if made with the breath or generated electronically); movement between notes is steady, and change slow. All of these features led to a sensation of being cast adrift on the surface of a calm ocean, following a line of time to a horizon reached mid-sentence.
The more I listened, however, the more the work’s vertical contours came into focus: the movement of pitch from high to low to high; the layering of instruments of different pitches, timbres, and historic periods (baroque and modern); the little swells of volume and intensity. If the music traverses musical time and acoustic space as words traverse a Western page, then it also unfurls like a Japanese scroll or a modern webpage, spanning centuries and kilometres in an instant. I got the sense that, like an ensemble score, the piece reads both ways, horizontally and vertically, simultaneously. So much of experience is understood and communicated through its representation as lines; to what degree is our perception of music also influenced by such representations? And what happens when those perceptions are subject to productive confusion and contradiction? Can tempo produce an impression of depth, and pitch an impression of flatness?
“How Deep is the Ocean” is the fourth album Granberg has released through UK label Another Timbre, the first three appearing under the name of the ensemble he leads, Skogen. The choice to record in Basel, Switzerland rather than Skogen’s base in Sweden, and to feature baroque instruments such as bass recorder, chitarrone, and viola da gamba, led to collaboration with a different group of musicians that included diatribes duo d’incise and Cyril Bondi. Granberg’s score gives responsibility for many different choices to its performers, meaning that the lines of travel heard on the recording are as much theirs as his. If we are to put these horizontal and vertical lines into slightly less abstract terms, we might say that they reflect both perceptions of landscape and perceptions of time. These reflections keep on broadening and deepening with each listen.
Image by Aron Jonason
Read an interview with Magnus Granberg about the album here.