Robert Curgenven: Sirène (Recorded Fields)
Robert Curgenven’s LP has the subtitle, “Selected Pipe Organ Works 1983-2014.” So it should come as no surprise that the four pieces that comprise the album focus heavily on the instrument, unprocessed, with turntables, acetates, and dubplates recorded and mixed additionally. The first piece, “Ressuscitant de l’étreinte de la Sirène,” is ten and a half minutes of drones that dramatically shift shape and focus over time. The first moments are a gradual swelling of clustered organ drones, eventually building into a dense swarm of discord. The rest of the movement is a gradual state of decay and diffusion, becoming murkier and more shapeless, a muted color field rather than any menacing thing in particular. It bristles with the tension of a dark Rothko painting, with forms that are purely abstract.
“Cornubia” is more muted, though the organ source is clear immediately. What starts as a somewhat stationary set of drones eventually begins to levitate with depth about halfway through, with a vibrating luminosity that evokes all kinds of visuals for me. There are very occasional moments of musical harmony, like the more deliberate organ swells that emerge from “Cornubia.” The piece is remixed from a 2011 composition and live recordings from Cornwall and again includes dubplates and turntables along with guitar feedback and a fan; this is likely what gives it its airy, lofty quality.
“Turner’s Tempest” is an expanded and remixed version of a track that appeared on Curgenven’s Transfixed cassette in a very limited edition, a thick, hissing fog of organ drones, dubplates, and turntables, devoid of additional electronics. Curgenven elaborates on his site about the intent of the piece:
The Internal Meta-Narrative of Turner’s Tempest As He Is Tied To The Mast in Order to Create the Direct Experience of the Drama Embodied Within a “Snow Storm – [wherein a] Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. [is rendered by virtue of the claim that] The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich”. This story is but a story, to quote the Tate article referenced above – “No ship called Ariel is associated with Harwich in the 1840s, and Turner is not known to have visited the east coast at this time. Moreover, a man of any age, let alone in his late fifties, would probably not have survived such an experience. Turner most likely chose the name Ariel because of its association with Shakespeare’s Tempest – the implication being that he was a painterly Prospero, able to conjure up any kind of weather, real or imagined, at will.” This piece examines not Turner’s story of the story behind the painting, which is in itself a story, but aims instead to experience the meta-narrative of Turner’s supposed unmediated experience through his embodiment – a conscious body tied to a mast on a boat cast out into a storm.
“Imperial Horizon” is an epilogue of sorts, built around an abstraction of a recording of Beethoven’s third symphony and more of Curgenven’s organ drones. It recalls the ghostly ballrooms of The Caretaker but otherwise exists here in such a different context that it’s a nice, short coda to an otherwise haunting album. Recommended for fans of ambient minimalism and the outer limits of conceptual drone music.