P.O.P. (Psychology of Perception) - Ikebana [FMR Records - 2017]P.O.P. (Psychology of Perception) is a 4 piece experimental band who use the traditional acoustic timbres of piano, bass, french horn and violincello in an unconventional manner. "Ikebana" is my only exposure to any of the musicians involved.
Curiously, the liner notes describe traditional oriental flower arrangements. The music on the album does not immediately seem to share the symmetrical simplicity described. The descriptions mention formal rules to be followed when constructing the arrangements, and the music here is an arrhythmic cloud-like mass of dissonant pitches, albeit quiet.
The musicians' activities are highly restrained, never gratuitous, most tracks utlizing only a couple of instruments at once, generally engaging in sustained pitches, wavering and swelling slowly in a prolonged crescendo. It manages to retain my attention due to the human element in its minimalism; the breaths taken between each long tone, the unsteady intonations and odd atonal fluctuations and bends within the drone. Interestingly, the band typically sees fit to sustain tones, but cares little for sustaining an actual pitch, freely allowing the drone to twist sourly up and down in frequency, and the players to diverge from unison with each other.
It possesses a meditative, focused lucidity, a solidarity within dissonance, a message of peace within dischord. The act of listening to this 'less is more' approach creates a sense of calm as the album progresses. The changes in instrumentation from piece to piece are effective, creating a sense each time that a new space has been entered. I begin to realize that, indeed, some kind of formal rules are being followed, and that perhaps the subtle, droning quietude is afterall an expression of the same restraint and quaint beauty found in the flower arrangement descriptions.
Each 'composition' is credited to one of the members rather than the entire group, but surely any 'score' followed to create these pieces must be one of an abstract, procedural nature and not one containing any actual notation, as there is nothing on the album that could be notated.
"Nageira" and "Shimentei" feature a sound of scraping metal, likely generated by playing the cello with some kind of foreign object, or using prepared piano techniques. At other moments, such as opener "Shoka", the sounds of the instruments listed in the liner notes are so thoroughly manipulated as to be nearly unrecognizable. This first piece is something of an acoustically generated bassy rumbling, resonating and ominous. Some of the most interesting textures on the album are shrill, shimmering resonances which could just as easily be feedback as they could be somehow created by scraping strings.
The general absence of jazz timbres and frenzied activity lead me to consider this free rhythm disk closer to the realm of pure avant garde or classical mimimalism than 'free jazz'. These musicians are invested in the process of slowing, prolonging time, deepening the present moment with engaged awareness.
Though the sound of this disk is at times directly at odds with the concept of pleasure or beauty, I am inclined to give it an entirely positive review. It feels like a complete, well rounded composition, each piece investigating realms on the edge of silence and spiritual ether. Imperfection of tone and performance are welcomed, while at the same time, their clarity of intent never wavers. Among all the avant garde music in my collection, it is unique in the way an asceticist mission is acccomplished in such rough hewn, whimsical manner.Josh Landry