Elegiac Reaction (2021)

Earlier this year I recorded a collection of spacious, minimalist piano pieces that became the album The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments.  I was using these pieces to help me process a surge of deep grief and loss at the time.  I have no theoretical understanding of classical music composition (nor am I a ‘piano player’), but I do have years of subjective understanding – the heard and the felt. I was reaching for sounds in the piano that evoked memories of music by composers such as Eric Satie, because of the profoundly beautiful  melancholy and yearning I have felt in their music.

Grief can be a profound process, and not only the province of death. Any parent who has been deliberately estranged from, pushed away or alienated from their child, knows the grief of losing precious moments of love with their child, made more acute by knowing they are still alive.  There is the grief of aging, the loss of youth’s potential, of the life that cannot be relived, of the many millions of moments lost to time.  And when my most significant relationships tremble under strain and threaten to completely collapse into Unbeing, I feel the grief of their potential absence with such a force that I collapse myself.  When life assaults in this way, I need to find a creative translation for the sensations I experience – I won’t demean the process by calling it ‘therapy’ – in order to hold firm through the shuddering, screaming accelerations of my nervous system and somehow restabilise out the other side.

This album, Elegiac Reaction, is the result of one such recent process. It consists of five ‘elegies’ – instrumental pieces with a sombre and reflective mood (how unlike me..), created over a four-day period of intense internal chaos, in response to the upheaval and potential loss of a very significant relationship.

Musically, these works combine elements of classical minimalism with loops and ambient electronic textures. In various ways they are each meditative pieces, reaching for beauty within darkness and upheaval. My entry point for this collection was the extended Elegy II, which puts me to mind of Brian Eno’s beautiful piano ambience circa Music For Airports, though I didn’t intend that effect at the time.  I was barely functioning amidst my internal turbulence, and needed long spaces, gentle notes, soothing textures and a sense of harmony.  Through this I wanted to communicate my enduring love, to find beauty beyond conflict.

Most of these pieces are carried by piano, and the incidental resonances created by layers of electronically-sustained notes, which in places form the illusion of voices, suggesting a choral wash.  This effect is particularly evident in the opening piece, Elegy I, which also has a more orchestral and dramatic presence.  I was reminded of a Requiem Mass, the sombre tones reflecting a passage through pain wherein each breath, each step, is taken with reverence and a sense of sacrament – a Will toward Love, despite the darkness.

The mood of the Requiem is touched on again in Elegy III, with an underlying chant-like drone.  A pulsating choir effect punctuates this ominous intonation, following a creeping, hesitant orchestral melody. As with Elegy I, I was later reminded of many stirringly dark yet exultant moments in Ennio Morricone’s powerful soundtrack for The Mission (and I’m not in any way suggesting my work is in that calibre – I am an appreciator, is all).

Elegy IV is very much an ambient exploration, with particular focus on the drone that provides the body.  As with Elegy II, this piece is reaching for beauty and soothing. By multitracking the drone and tweaking its fluctuations, many subtle ‘voices’ emerge in an ever-shifting, almost imperceptible array of harmonies and overtones – none of which were played as notes, just a naturally occurring phenomenon of layering the same track over itself.  I have actually experienced a similar phenomenon with African percussion, when I used to lead community drumming groups – sometimes we would sit on a rhythm (djembes and dundun) for a half-hour or so, deep in trance, and I would hear a ‘choir’ of ‘angelic voices’ resonating above us.  More remarkable still were the times other members confirmed hearing the same thing.  Sound works in mysterious ways..

I was unsure whether to include the final track, Elegy V, in this collection.  It was the last piece I created, by which stage I had moved through the worst of my chaos and my nervous system had found relative stability.  I was more motivated by creative curiosity and experimentation with sounds, but I feel it still fits the album’s mood and texture – after all, I wasn’t aiming to create any one style of music.  When I enter into these processes of creative transmutation through upheaval, there is generally a shape to them, a head / body / tail, an onset / immersion / tapering, so I try to respond authentically as each phase of its life is occurring.  In a way, this piece is fitting in that it has a quality of uncertainty about it; when Heidi and I have these upheavals in our relationship, and feel the damage, there is always a tentative uncertainty afterwards between us both.

Once again, as much for the beauty and significance of the image itself, as for the reiteration of my Will toward Enduring Lovingness with Heidi, I chose one of her photos for the album’s cover – a swurling flame, ethereal, diffused, yet charged with life, holy fire, dragonfire, alchemical fire.

As this album extends on some similar musical and personal themes, it makes an appropriate companion piece to The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments.