Michael Pisaro – Shades of Eternal Night

Michael Pisaro - Shades of Eternal Night, image of buildings lining the shore of the Aegean Sea in Ermoupoli, Syros, by Ross Berteig.

Ping. Ding. Ting. Ching. Cling. Clang. Bong. Dong. In between, faint dragging, shuffling, scrunching, shifting, sloshing, gleaming. This is ‘The Poem of Names’, the final track from Michael Pisaro’s “Shades of Eternal Night”, each sharp metallic tone a different name, each of them exceeding words the way a belly exceeds a tight t-shirt. Later on there are wispy ambient chords, on each sounding bearing more and more audible traces of their origin in rapidly hammered piano notes. This piano, played by Reinier van Houdt and recorded during the sessions for 2016’s expansive “the earth and the sky”, forms the foundation of this more recent album: the piano, and more specifically the piano’s excess, the imprints it made in a particular acoustic space, the resonances and overtones that spill out from within its own body.

‘Ghosts of the Site’ is really all ghost — constructed from spectral aftertones, reverberations, and resonances divorced from their former bodies. ‘Event Storm’ is another aptly-titled piece, with rapidly-hammered piano battling with waves and wind, crashing and thundering, tossed about in a storm. It is all very theatrical, the ideal soundtrack to an epic like The Iliad (the album takes its title from one of the paintings of Cy Twombly’s symbolic re-telling of The Iliad in his FIFTY DAYS AT ILIAM, and features field recordings and cover photos made on the island of Syros in the Aegean Sea). The piano cycles through various pitches and tonalities, eventually breaking through to a major key before stopping. The section of calm that follows is deceiving, because the storm returns with a vengeance towards the end of the piece.

The fact that Pisaro came to The Iliad via Twombly, rather than directly, suggests something about the mutability of ancient Greek myth. Though on the surface they are melodramatic tales of gods and monsters, heroes and battles, they possess a remarkable ability to adapt, like viruses mutating as they transfer from host to host. Even landscapes have become infected: it is hard to look at the album’s cover photo of the town of Ermoupoli, with its white buildings and pastel-coloured roofs leading down to the Aegean, and not think of the Greeks storming Troy, or of Odysseus bound the mast of his ship as his ear-plugged companions row past the Sirens. Our perceptions, our cultures, our ways of making sense of the world are caught in the aftershocks of ancient events that spread through art and poetry as a sort of excess of historical time. Maybe it is these traces, as much as those of the piano, that Pisaro is interested in corralling and encouraging to mutate once more.

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Michael Pisaro / Gravity Wave

Image by Ross Berteig on Flickr.

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