Self Referentials Volumes 1 & 2
To travel, when at peace I can say and feel as if a feather on the breath of God. Traveling though, the logistics of it, I am buffeted about by time, a complete lack of control over how I perceive it. Two days left in Paris and I can easily be a blur of activity which is both productive and fun as all the time flies by. Two days until my flight to London and I am anxious and distracted. I cannot work but to do nothing brings on another kind of misery. I try to preoccupy myself, fitful bouts of work. A parade of random phantom images, the always empty flower vase in her foyer from Limoge that always smelled faintly of violets.
After that first day there, once my stomach settled, drowsing in the sun while in the barber’s chair, the scent of cigar, soap and the leather of the strop brings me back to a childhood in Vienna; remembered and examined now, seeming more like a book that I had read long ago.
Like daydreams or memories, good works of art regardless of medium offer an inner landscape for the audience to traverse, the work serving as the terra firma. The more compelling works allow one to revisit them, discovering previously unnoticed aspects of the work or for the general colorations of the piece to appeal and reflect the new you that has developed since last visiting the piece. Alexander’s Self Referentials Volumes 1 & 2 is indicative of the type of work which facilitates a compulsion to take such an inner journey again and again.
In the tradition of the best headphone music, the work doubles as both the landscape to be explored and the Sherpa that accompanies you on the journey. The pieces, regardless of the images, each perhaps personally unique as conjured up in the listener’s head, share the commonality present on the surface of the environs, the emotional resonation of exploration and mystery. There is a difference between a traveler and a tourist. A tourist while seeing a thing tries to recreate as much as possible around themselves a bubble of existence from the life back home that they have temporarily put on hold. A traveler tries to organically insert themselves into new surroundings as to observe and experience more than on the present surface of the environs. A pilgrim is the traveler to the extreme, focused on obtaining some knowledge, some feeling. For all a traveler picks up on the journey, there is a give and take, a piece of themselves, the resonating echo of emotions from what was gained is left behind, a sort of mirror image ghost left to further populate a place. This album is a city full of such specters. All the, not only places but things which have turned Alexander on, his journey in turn birthing a fecund topography of dreams which are sometimes murmured and at other times shooting star blasted for the listener to wander across.
No matter what personal images the album conjures up, intuitively each listener knows they are being spoken to in the vernacular of (day) dreams common to us all. “Far Afield” places you in an open air marketplace, the city of reveries. The dreamscape remains the same but each person, each generation adorns and paints the walls as they deem fit. The aural city seems uniquely “mine” to each who traverse it from the familiarity of its hues utilized from our own palette which allows each of us to claim ownership via our time spent in pilgrimage. Yet for all the inwardly isolated gazing the work inspires, it is Alexander’ music which facilitates the time spent doing so. He provides the thing which serves as both the facilitator, once removed from what we may think, and the soundtrack which serves as a sort of free associated word narrator and companion.
Everything is connected and all divergent paths eventually rejoin in the marketplace. In the marketplace, a nasal cadenced horn starts the tune, pulsing to the undulating hand percussion. Another nasal voice joins in, a call and response. The melody slurs and bends. It is a lament combined with a come hither to attract the passerby’s to the kiosks. It is a preamble of abstract thoughts not necessarily one’s own. In its lament the primal part of ourselves twitches, the same effect as occurs with the early, pure (Western) blues. Towards the end, the cadence is near cheery, children parroting the blues, executed in perfect mimicry but with childlike joy as it’s a game, calling forth the sound of the blues but not the actual heartache. A woman intones a chant. It is of another culture but is quickly absorbed into the landscape, echoing, a sort of radar pinging off of its own beauty as she fades into the far end of the crowd.
Throughout the work runs a razor’s edge of discordance, not always visible it is never unpleasant or creating any sort of distraction as it allows for a sort of focusing thought, as to better slice through the onion skin like layers of perception crafted by Alexander.
The whole city is out of time, not in moments of options and actions but in its immeasurable architecture and social mores. This sensation is helped along by Alexander creating sonic mosaics which utilize custom made and designed instruments culled from his own ideas mélange with various ethnic, symphonic and jazz instruments, while also eschewing the use of synthesizers which could tether the sound to any one time. This album inhabits a city impossibly sprung up around the trunkless stone legs of Ozmandias; the lineage underscored by Alexander’s choice to use some traditional instruments which can in some manner or other be traced back to ancient cultures both of the Far East and Africa.
“Pulsation” is the throbbing of the modern world behind which hides the vocalese of the Cherubim. The effect of the sonics presents to the inner eye the silvered dots one sees when looking in the direction of the sun with eyes closed. The beauty of not just this piece but the whole work is even as sounds conjoin to create patterns which form a sort of melodic structure, they too, once cohesive, slowly shift. It is that special coolness whose mystery is that it can only exists in places that are hot. The recessed doorway by the butchers, shade mysterious in that despite not being sealed off, there is wetness to its saturnine skin. From these places which serve a womblike purpose, reveries are incubated, darkness of the inner lining of a conjurer’s cloak.
“Amphibiana” starts out with what could be the soft rubbing of cricket or locust wings. The song has a layered percussive feel to it, the soundtrack to a ritual. There is with many of the voices that come and go on this piece a sort of blending of timbre and identity, the first dominant voice could be a reed instrument or gain saturated guitar. For melody, there are small pulse points which fall around one almost ever present larger one, raindrops falling into a lake or river. Treated voices cascade, a call to the fire or the song already joined by those at it. The high pitched pipes and other reed instruments declaim as one would expect the women to and the women cry out as the birds in their trees above should. How much time has gone by, when is dawn or have we made it obsolete? All the tracks seamlessly move into one another. There is the excitement of a seemingly alien landscape with its riot of ambient scents and sounds, yet there is within these ancient, foreign rhythms a trick which causes the mind to momentarily stutter as flashes of things from some collective, half-forgotten reveries can be glimpsed on the periphery. The piece ends with everything dropping away except for the throaty call of the first lead voice then that too is gone leaving the insects and the dimming tap of the wise ones by the fire who have always been there, who are waiting to be born.
“Of Fugal Melancholia” is more of a traditional beauty as a lone piano is played like a less frenetic hand dulcimer. It offers up a stillness that reenergizes for everything else that is to come on this trip. There is the nostalgia for home combining with the gratefulness for all that has been seen on the road. With its gentle, sad beauty, it is the piece of cold fruit between courses of a meal, it is the herbaceous tisane whose every sip allows one to taste the forest, the mystery of why greenery often seems near luminescent in the rain.
“Headphonic Apparitions 111” which ends the first CD starts off as almost a thematic refrain, utilizing some of the aural textures from the very first piece. As the piece moves towards closure every sound, a thing being accidently dropped, a plane’s wheels hitting the runway, the beat of a heart, the universe falls into entrainment, you are not home but on the next part of the journey.
To read about Ulysses walking through his front door after many years, the scene as described can be enjoyed but it has far more power if one were to have read of all his travels which had lead up to and were connected to the scene. With the fluidic way one track morphs into the next the album is best enjoyed and shows its full power when taken as a whole.
Volume Two of this set the song titles have been replaced by roman numerals, numbers, which is only proper for trying to explain a dream to someone living outside your head. The entire collection is dedicated to Jaik Miller (1970-2012) who was Alexander’s friend, compadre and collaborator. The subtitle for the second part is Unnamed Diary and while there is still a travelogue motif, there is an aspect of contemplation centering on the question of where we go when we are remembered by others but become now unseen; the secret life of thoughts as we let them drift and memory as a sort of canvas. There is still motion to be found in Alexander’s collage but it is not necessarily a linear, forward one but what daydreams ever migrate that way?
“I” starts with the pulsating hints of things just outside a door which is slowly swinging, the pieces of the mosaic revealed then hidden again as the portal once again blocked, goes dark but only until it swings again.
“II” The canopy of the jungle dotted with unseen life which reveals itself in various calls. It is the dichotomy of dreams that crawl on all fours, our primal desires and fears, and those up above which glide from branch to branch never touching the ground. Towards its finish someone off in the distance outside the jungle cries, a celebration of triumph for having escaped or the anguish of their exile, wanting once again to be back in the green.
“III” There are gentle miasmas of organ like drones and pulses, a sort of soft retreat within and downward. Flute like cadence towards the end convince all to relax, nothing is good or bad so much as inevitable.
Track “IV” features the spoken word performance of Jaik Miller. Under his words there is a hammering, heavy drops of water falling. This percussive undertone duets with dark bass pulse points. It is all reveries, ever in flux and important for the actions and inspirations that they shall inspire in the real world. Words and hand dulcimer flurries end the piece in the lighter strata which exists right before waking and consciousness.
In “XI” a near delicate dulcimer pattern unfolds over impressionistic electro washes. It could be a sea of wheat rippling in the breeze or fauna beneath the surface of the waves undulating with the pull of the tide. It is all ethereal notions of a tomorrow that may never come or is just like yesterday. It is these quiet moments of contrast, among other things, which help maintain the work’s tension.
The whole work represents an extended suite, everything is interconnected not necessarily in the way we conceptualize in the (musical) western classical tradition but there is an inherent logic once one recognizes that this is the parlance of dreams whose every sentence is punctuated by déjà vu and reveries. Physically & mentally most of us do not have the luxury of being able to stay away forever. We have homes and jobs to always call us back but this work embodies a trip to be made for the mere act of pressing play and opening oneself up to the experience. In many ways no better thing can be offered up by a work of art.
These are not liner notes, these are the liner notes.
Maxwell Chandler 2012