Steve Reich In The Afternoon 9

Messiaen Link, gan/by Plyci

Gwrando/listen – Youtube Spotify

Some year this has been, it’s been a never-ending year of questions. When will things be back to normal again? How do I navigate this? Can I be helpful? Am I expendable? What is normal anyway? Why is time moving at a glacial pace yet at the same time racing ahead like a whippet? Is it time for another coffee? (always yes). I just hope if you’re reading this, you are well, and that these pieces of music help in some way to distract from the ever-reeling impossible pub quiz within.     

While it’s unarguably a time of great anxiety and chaos, I often look back at the short period around April this year where all around me was calm; calm, only because we were forced to stop. For a few weeks, being sat in a garden and only being able to hear the birds, not the ever-droning noise of a busy city and the airport flight path I live beneath. I thought this is what the world was like before we industrialised so much, it was a spooky atmosphere only broken by the rather sobering sound of a distant siren reminding you that not all is actually calm, there is a sad chaos beyond.  

In order to occupy myself I as always turned to making music, some which has since seen the light of day and some which will never grace the ears of anyone other than my two cats and me. I also became deeply interested in reading about how other musicians were navigating this new, difficult and sudden reality, how they dealt with not being able to go to concerts, play music to a live audience or even just jam with friends. 

One thing that caught my attention was a community driven act of solidarity happening in Montreal, at a set time one night back then – which feels like a lifetime ago now – musicians organised a “lockdown drone”. They picked a key, and an evening where anyone who could join in was welcome to do so, they droned for 10 mins. Obviously, I never heard this happening, but I imagined it resonating through the ground beneath the city, filling every void with air pressure and shaking every pane of glass from its frame. I imagined the streets of the city behaving like the inner workings of a several mile-long pipe organ forcing air down its channels only for it to escape once it reached the edges of the city. I’m sure in reality it was just a dude on a balcony shredding on a Hurdy-gurdy, and power to him. 

This mental image reminded me that even in the preindustrial world, we had the ability to shake the very foundations of buildings with nothing but a little air pressure and some wooden tubes. These pressure fluctuations were enough to inspire awe at such a level they were installed within every western world ‘house of god’ the western world could build. They provided huge droning waves of sound and triggered what I’m sure would have been the earliest evidence of an addiction to sound energy within a space. This is an energy we are absolutely missing right now, something which as soon as people were able to enjoy, people enjoyed with regularity and wonderment. A congregation of souls longing to feel and float in sound for a brief moment, to be the most alive and most lucid. Basically, we’ve been doing this a LONG time, it’s not a modern thing, it’s necessary.       

Therefore, I give you a living, breathing selection of some of my favourite music featuring Pipe Organs. The loudest preindustrial thing other than thunder that could shake you to your core, make crowds weep and sing in equal measure and make the inside of your lungs feel funny (remember that feeling?). One could argue that bathing in sound collectively is what makes us “living” and it’s sadly the one thing we can’t currently do. Play these as loud as you can and thrash about in them like Serengeti hippos, please invite your neighbour to do the same. 

Mouchoir Etanche – Une Fille Pétrifiée
Marc Richter, composer and Music Concrete master sample smasher. Dude. It’s rather hard to choose a track of his, they’re all part of a bigger tapestry so I went with the title track from this rather excellent new album.  

Anna Von Hausswolff – Theatre Of Nature
Anna is a badass. This return to the organ is a big shift from the epic, witchy ritual-esque flirtations of her last record (Dead Magic) but equally enchanting.  

Stereolab – Super Falling Star
You just can’t mention organs without mentioning this classic. Stereolab made keyboards cool amongst a sea of guitars in the early 90’s. 

Olivier Messiaen – Apparition de L’Eglise Eternelle
Buckle up, the master is here.  

Grails – Take Refuge
Eastern-Psych-Post-Rock awesomeness from Portland, Oregon. This was often in my headphones when walking to lectures, the perfect balance of blissed out yet energetic and features the cheekiest fade out ever, who knows where the music went past that point… 

Sunn )))) – Troubled Air
Distilled sonic bathing at the deep end of the pool. Bring arm bands.  

One of the final gigs I saw in 2019 was Sunn O))), It was like sitting in a warm bath in front of an inferno of multi-coloured haze, like looking into a mouth of a volcano filled with rainbow drops. The near two and a half hours of monolithic sound was just brutal and left me utterly fatigued the following day as they pushed the Camden Roundhouse to near 130dba. It’s the safest and most vulnerable I’ve ever felt at a gig. 

The Organ at St Bavo’s in Ghent, Belgium, during Plyci’s visit there in February 2020.