When one works with Michael Pisaro, it quickly becomes apparent that the man has an immense knowledge of various musical genres, despite his highly specialized compositional style. Although Pisaro is famous for his studies of silence as sound with the Wandelweiser collective, he’s equally fascinated by gangster rap, Prince, harsh noise, and The Rolling Stones, among many, many other things. In some ways, I think that all of these disparate sources are perhaps unconsciously present in a lot of Pisaro’s other works.
However, with Tombstones, Pisaro seems to address this part of his musical history in a much more explicit way. Tombstones is guided by two major ideas: (1) The question of “what happens to old political songs?” and (2) Taking “tiny fragments of old and not-so-old songs and [putting] them into an experimental music situation, introducing them to a kind of chaos, where the arrangement of the written-out material is up for grabs.” In this way, Pisaro creates a kind of acoustic/compositional sampling, but this isn’t a John Oswald-esque plunderphonics excursion. Nor is it Pisaro’s attempt to make an overtly pop move. Instead, Tombstones works beautifully because it takes a hidden element of Pisaro’s music and slyly pushes it ever so slightly into the foreground without sacrificing his aesthetic in the process. The result is a gorgeous deconstruction of both popular song form and a fascinating recontextualization of Pisaro’s craft in the process. Mad props to Pisaro’s ensemble (which prominently features the voice and harmonium of Julia Holter) for their great interpretation of this material.