Cristián Alvear

Cristián Alvear - shizuka ni furu ame, rain on a windowsill

shizuka ni furu ame

At first, I couldn’t hear a note of “shizuka ni furu ame” over the everyday noises of my shared city centre home: over my housemates going about their routines, the ventilation system and central heating, the kids booting a ball around outside… I eventually ended up increasing the volume of the audio using software, as a safer alternative to cranking my amplifier up to levels guaranteed to blow a speaker should I have forgotten to turn it back down again before switching to another, more conventionally mastered album. Radu Malfatti, who composed the single eponymous piece commissioned and performed on this recording by guitarist Cristián Alvear, is from what I’ve heard (or not heard) perhaps the most reductionist of the international Wandelweiser collective, itself a group hardly known for raucous volume levels. Still, I thought, there are certain practicalities to be considered when mastering an album, and not everyone has the same level of control over the ambient noise level of their listening environment.

With the volume adjusted, and on those rare enough occasions when I was able to play some or even all of the 54-minute piece without too many loud disturbances, I tried to understand the rationale behind the music, to adjust myself to its mood and pace. A figure quietly rang out from Alvear’s guitar — a simple two- or three-string chord, or sometimes a single note — and faded away, the reduced volume curtailing the length of the decay. A little later, another figure rang out, gentle as soft rain, sometimes the same figure as before and sometimes different, but not by much. Silence filled the spaces between the figures the way sand rushes back into a hole as a wave subsides. This continued for the whole of the piece, or at least until a housemate arrived home and started cooking, or I lost concentration and my thoughts drifted towards other things, my head buzzing too loudly to catch the barely-there quiver of sound from the speakers, software volume control or no. Figure-silence-figure-silence, a maddeningly frustrating game, like watching two Zen masters play chess when you think you’ve spotted a winning play.

Twice I tried to write a review of “shizuka ni furu ame” before stopping and deleting everything I had written. There’s no reason why it should be easy, I thought. I’m under no obligation to get every piece of music, or even to like it. But I couldn’t stop listening to this piece, every chance I got. It quietly insisted. An image of a mountain formed, into which its painter, once finished painting, stepped — and disappeared. The sudden appearance of this image was like a shock. Actually it wasn’t so sudden, but it seems sudden, looking back. Like waking. Who can pinpoint the exact moment when sleep becomes wakefulness? Yet suddenly there I am, awake. A few moments ago was another world, a dream. Or when it starts to rain — where’s the transition point? Clouds darken over the mountain, then… guitar. You’re left in the wake of the decay, of the fade. Somehow it was dry and now, now your ears are ringing. Ringing with what happened. Listening, like a sort of faithfulness to that happening. The commencement of another world. I come to my senses again. Quietly raining.

Image: And the rain falls by BizanceNCo (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence)

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