TMT briefly talked with Jason Lescalleet in anticipation of his digital reissue of The Pilgrim, which was originally released in 2006. You can stream the album below and read an analysis complete with some of the composer’s own personal insight below.
With most pop music — and tonal music, in general — it’s easy to rely on both the functions of Western harmony that have been ingrained into us at an early age and lyrics that tell us directly how to feel. But electronic experimental music’s alien, “abstracted” nature can make it harder to relate to for many casual listeners, the processing, blurring, and amelodicism not as clearly defined as harmony and language. But if I hear anyone claim that electronic music isn’t “expressive enough,” then I’ll turn them toward Jason Lescalleet’s The Pilgrim, which is being reissued digitally in a remastered/expanded format by the composer himself today.
The Pilgrim, despite its experimental nature, is one of the more moving pieces of music of any genre that I’ve heard. The album is a towering elegy to Lescalleet’s father that illustrates his knack for “presenting abstract music in a manner that allows the listener to find their own way into the music.” While The Pilgrim very specifically refers to the loss of Lescalleet’s father, the work creates a universality that has the power to speak to many different people. For over an hour, the piece builds and layers gorgeous austere drones in a manner similar to the compositions of Eliane Radigue and some of Kevin Drumm’s recent ambient work, before giving way to a slow-burning cloud of noise that leads into an absolutely devastating field recording of Lescalleet’s daughter singing “Molly Malone” to her grandfather. Nothing is ever explicitly stated, but the mood is undeniably clear and the music emotionally all-consuming. There are moments when both the meditative piece associated with death is evoked and the rage and struggle are thrust to the forefront and confronted. Lescalleet’s sound sources may hold deeply personal significance, but his processing and treatment renders them emotionally accessible.
The original LP pressing of The Pilgrim featured a live performance dedicated to Lescalleet’s father on one side and an excerpt from their last conversation on the other, in addition to a CD containing a 74-minute version of the titular piece. Format is crucial to Lescalleet’s work, and in this sense, the original version of the record is particularly idiomatic to its design. “The length of storage space…relative fidelity concerns and different audiences are considerations I take very seriously” explains Lescalleet. All of these elements contributed to the composer’s desire to reissue the record digitally and “offer [the] audience high-resolution sound files that are virtually free of media restraints.” Thus, The Pilgrim is “realized at its proper length” of 85 minutes, with the remastering emphasizing the “tonal qualities and acoustic properties” of Lescalleet’s sounds. The reissued version is as format specific as the original, and as a result, the piece gleams in its expanded and remastered form.
The Pilgrim is an important album in Lescalleet’s discography from both a personal standpoint and a musical one. In some ways, it marks a shift into more heavily thematic/conceptual works, as well as a movement into some of the other towering long-form pieces in Lescalleet’s oeuvre. However, The Pilgrim remains a particularly haunting, singular listen, a thoughtful masterwork that serves as both a memorial to the artist’s father and a prime example of how narrative and emotion can arise from abstraction.
• Jason Lescalleet http://www.lescalleet.wordpress.com