Feb 14 Michael Pisaro / Miguel Prado – White Metal senufo edition # forty five (Milan)

Michael Pisaro & Miguel Prado
White Metal


White Metal is a new composition written by Michael Pisaro and performed by the Waldelweiser composer along with the Spanish musician Miguel Prado. The piece is the second in a series of works titled the Grey Series, which are written with the intention of being realised using noteless, white noise oriented textures, and is put together in this instance as a cross-ocean filesharing exercise carefully choreographed via Pisaro’s very precise score, which is helpfully included as the artwork for the album. The first thing that strikes you about the work, even before you drop the needle on the record, is the way that Pisaro has notated the work. Split into four movements, with each apparently following the basic structure of Mozart’s 40th Symphony (a piece of music I have always, admittedly irrationally disliked) Pisaro allows the two musicians to choose their own “noises” but gives the guidance that they should essentially be “white(-sh) noise, intense or dense enough so that at first differentiation between noises or layers might be nearly impossible”. He then provides precise timings for each movement, and then often very precise detail on how each sound may be arranged, some of the characteristics that should be considered, and the ways they should be mixed. In fact, beyond the choice of actual sound used, Pisaro pretty much ties down the shape and dynamic of the work. His score reminds me a lot of a styling sheet used to layout a website such as the one you are reading now. Any content may be added to these pages, but where things sit, how big they are, how they combine with other elements and how much white space surrounds it all are dictated in advance. I suspect that Pisaro’s instructions, with comments such as “An erratic noise that runs intermittently throughout the movement” or “Eight blasts of noise (each lasting 17″, but each different) at the flowing times:….” may well be derived directly from the different elements that come and go in the Mozart symphony, though I am making an as yet unconfirmed assumption here. if this is the case, and Pisaro has in fact made a very loose, very rough xerox copy of Mozart’s music by shaping white noise sounds into some sort of very faint shadow of that famous work then this is very clever composition indeed. For this realisation of the work the duo also apparently tried to feed some of the essence of the Black Metal genre into the music, so mixing it with white noise to give the album its title. Precisely how successfully this particular element has been achieved is admittedly a little lost on me. I hear nothing obvious in amongst it all to invoke black metal directly, but the use of noise to create both loud and very quiet music, both of which are present here, works as a reflection of the different ways white noise can be put to use, be it in black metal’s volume or the reticence of Wandelweiser’s early silences.

Irrespective of how it was composed however, White Metal is a thoroughly engaging listen. The four movements are separated by three lengthy silences, the middle of which is dictated by how long it may take you to turn the record over, but the others both lasting a good three or four minutes each. Between these interludes sit layers of steadily shifting, dense yet never entirely opaque noise. Much of these sounds are abstract- static fields, quivering synth-like wobbles and fierce, electric fizzing, but there also a fair number of field recordings, some of which remain unidentifiably alien, but running water makes its inevitable presence heard, and the third movement, which on the whole feels the loudest and most dense here layers multiple passing aircraft with at one point an almost kitschy use of what sounds like a NASA styled countdown. Given that on the whole the music is made up of largely textural, non-melodic sounds, and that each element was chosen in isolation to the others around it, there is a real sense of engaging musicality to the piece that betrays Pisaro’s ability to picture music in the abstract, place elements carefully together before even knowing how they will sound, and form a work that is dynamically and narratively interesting by merely typing words onto paper and letting chance do the final work. White Metal is a fascinating affair, a triumph of the composer’s ability to imagine music into being, but also the result of some interesting choices of sound from both musicians, never staying entirely safe, but still finding elements that when combined fit together without sounding out of place. Excellent work, both in conception and execution.

The Watchfull Ear by Richard Pinnell

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of simultaneity in relationship to the development of artistic movements and musical genres. For instance, the very different emergences of noise music that occurred around the early 1980s in the UK with Whitehouse and in Japan with Merzbow are inextricably linked despite their geographic disparities. Black metal was also in its formative stages during this time with bands like Venom and the conceptual ideas driving all three of these movements is shockingly similar (intentionally abrasive/confrontational music, shocking imagery, rejection of Western cultural ideals, distortion, etc.). The sonic characteristics of these artists’ work may be different, but they are all driven by similar aesthetic concerns that just happened to manifest themselves in various ways due to geographic and social factors. In this way, this music’s genesis is united despite these artists not necessarily coming into contact with each other’s work at the time of creation.

A similar thing happened during the 1990s in Europe and Japan with onkyo music and the work of the Wandelweiser collective. Both genres are marked by a fascination with “silence as sound,” as well as the connections between silence and noise, but their approaches are manifested in very different ways. Wandelweiser’s work deals more with composed chamber music that is in direct lineage with the ideas of John Cage and Morton Feldman. On the other hand, onkyo largely grew out of the world of free improvisation and in many cases was much more focused on the use of minimal electronic materials (the turntables of Otomo Yoshihide, the sinetones of Sachiko M, the no-input mixer of Toshimaru Nakumara, etc.). These various strains of reductionist music often produce similar results using different means and the score for Michael Pisaro’s White Metal seems to deal directly with the relationship between these two aesthetics.

The score for White Metal essentially creates an EAI type of situation. It’s a further exploration of Pisaro’s desire to create and control fascinating textures through notation that is both open yet highly specific. This puts the performers (in this case Miguel Prado and Pisaro) in a particularly interesting position of largely controlling the timbral quality of the work while still adhering to the structural specificity of the composition. Prado’s co-realization of the piece with Pisaro is particularly stunning and their various layers of noise and tones mix to create mysterious all consuming harmonies and textures throughout. The sound sources here seem primarily electronic and as a result, the work has the feel of a more dynamic Francisco Lopez piece. Like Lopez, Pisaro and Prado understand that there’s a thin line between amplified white noise and the silence of a space and this dichotomy is explored throughout White Metal.

While White Metal acknowledges and addresses the sonic similarities between the worlds of onkyo and Wandelweiser, it goes even further to explore the dichotomy between these quiet musical realms and the aforementioned worlds of noise and metal. The piece’s title simultaneously invokes black metal and white noise, which instantly draws a line between those two genres. With White Metal, it becomes apparent that the extremity of these alternately silent and loud styles is inextricably linked through their focuses on white noise on all levels and Pisaro and Prado make this abundantly clear by expertly exploding and reducing noise sounds on this excellent record.