Pierre Gerard - A Simple Eye [Edition Wandelweiser Records - 2021]
A Simple Eye, on Edition Wandelweiser Records, comes in the label’s standard packaging: a sparsely decorated, with text only, fold-out card wallet; the spartan nature of the artwork reflects the sound associated with the Wandelweiser group, representing the most minimal end of modern composition and performance. True to this, Pierre Gerard’s album is indeed sparse and restrained - though not necessarily quiet or meditative.
If Wandelweiser is a new name to you, the previous paragraph might give the sense of a colourless, quiet, static music but this is not a description that be fairly applied to the composers associated with the name, nor does it resonate with A Simple Eye. Gerard’s work here is incredibly colourful, dynamic, and constantly moving - though, yes, it is performed largely slowly, in hushed tones, and containing pools of silence. Listing their instruments as ‘abstract voice, guitar, cello, piano, bass clarinet, electronics, field recording’ Gerard produces pieces that have a strong sense of the miniature; several pieces are around the three-minute mark, whilst the longest stretches to nearly twelve, but even the longer works carry a sense of the small and concentrated. For example, ‘the fourth is a lozenge yellow’ moves through distinct blocks of sound, from discordant piano, to a distant whine, to hushed, tentative, atonal guitar but there’s no firm sense of building, rather each section presents its sounds concentrated and centre stage. However, Gerard’s most striking approach for much of the album is to create condensed passages of interlocking elements - piano, cello, and voice, for example; these sections are sometimes akin to cut-ups, with dynamic, rhythmic, and melodic jumps and twists, actually reminding me of the work of Dave Phillips - though in a much less ferocious way. Sometimes surrounded by passages of silence, they present odd little kinetic vignettes, bursting into the silences and disappearing just as quickly. Another appealing element of A Simple Eye is Gerard’s magisterial use of electronics, scattering incredibly discreet sounds throughout the pieces, and at points creating confusion as to whether we’re hearing electronic sounds or extended techniques from the acoustic instruments - truly well crafted.
A Simple Eye is an album that rewards quiet listening. I’ll be quite honest that my first few listens were a bit casual and unimpressed, but more concentrated listening revealed a fascinating little sound world. Whilst fascinating, Gerard’s work clearly won’t be for everyone: the album is essentially a melodic affair but delivered with such sparseness that it acquires a textural quality, however, this textural quality doesn’t translate into conventional notions of sound and timbre, suspending the works in a space that somewhat frustrates both a simple melodic and textural appreciation - that’s the album’s strength but also the obstacle to be negotiated by the listener. This will, I’m sure, appeal to those already enamoured of Wandelweiser works, but those interested in modern composition, or improv, or simply sound on a fundamental level, would do well to investigate.Martin P