Maps And Mazes
Olga Wojciechowska is a Polish composer and violinist. Maps and Mazes is a delectable listen that largely sidesteps the violin (or at least the conventional sound of the violin), placing it in a corner for substantial, prolonged periods as other layers are built. It doesn’t immediately enter. On the contrary, exceptionally deep and icy ambient layers soon arrive, turning the music – and the record – into a cold, expansive and yet introverted journey.
Initially touched by a sensual, jazz-inspired horn, Maps and Mazes opens outwards, inflating slowly. So far, everything’s going to plan. The tones are as light as a lover’s caress. Things are about to change. The hollow thuds and seismic knocks of ‘Primal Fear’ rebound as strong echoes against the icy caverns of the music, and just like that, the mood has changed. The rocky cave has protruding, jagged edges that hang from its ice-carved skeleton, and they could be responsible for a serious injury. Lights dim as we walk further into the piece, but it goes even further than that: it borders on pitch black. Heavy thuds resound with a stark and stripped back urgency, a clanging and a buzzing as the sound itself is infiltrated by a thousand, black-eyed flies. It’s intense music. Contrasts wait around every corner as each track bleeds out a day and night symmetry. And thanks to a vaguely operatic, vocal tone, the music ascends early, leaving the venomous, fanged textures to writhe around on the cold stone.
‘Melting Into Unknown’ brings the violin forth. This is how we’re used to seeing her. A lovely line is precisely drawn as the bow presses itself against the strings. In the midst of an ethereal atmosphere, she twirls. The achingly beautiful ‘Number of Possible Words’ ghosts around, a shell of its former self. The violin’s intentionally underused up until this point, because it heightens the anticipation and the intensity of the instrument when you do finally hear it. It isn’t the dominant instrument. In fact, the very first line of this review may have thrown the listener for a loop as I mentioned the word violinist (sorry), but the word composer comes first, and on Maps and Mazes, the composition comes before the violin. You definitely don’t want to flood it, or risk overkill on something as fragile as music; everything has to retain its balance, or else you risk an uneven ecosystem and a splintered record. Deeply lined textures are interwoven into the very fabric of the music, like microscopic, criss-crossing patterns of denim on a pair of jeans. Slightly dark, they nonetheless provide a great deal of security and warmth to the otherwise stark sound. Without them, the music would be pretty bare.
Piano notes drift in the cold surrounding air like a family of snowflakes. Composed for a variety of film and theater productions, Maps and Mazes is incredibly detailed, highly sensitive music. It is seemingly everywhere and nowhere. In a single second, it drifts, rises and falls. Darker lights rule supreme over ‘Abandoned Words’. Fog scatters itself over ‘Walk My Shadow Home’, the violin a pale shadow of itself as it tries to break through the grey, dank cloud that hangs so low to the ground. It is at this point that the music succumbs to melancholia, choosing the path of least regret but still walking down an unavoidable road of misery. As it walks, it eventually dulls and, with a swish of reverb, it vanishes, leaving nothing of itself behind. Not even a trace. The music is saying “remember me”, especially when the outlook is bleak.