Colin Stetson All This I Do For Glory

[52Hz; 2017]

Styles: structured improvisation, modern composition, saxophones mistaken for didgeridoos
Others: Anthony Braxton, Sonny Rollins, John Zorn

There are two main features of the music of Colin Stetson, evident on All This I Do For Glory, no more or less than in his previous output. On the one hand, he makes pieces that sound “song-like” without them actually being “songs.” Stetson has, after all, collaborated with Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, and there’s no doubt a whole “indie” sensibility informing his work. Then again, Stetson uses his circular breathing technique — which allows him to play continuous tones without interruption, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth by storing air in the cheeks — allows him to play pieces without a traditional “song” structure. His pieces feature one figure played over and over again until its possibilities are exhausted or Stetson exhausts himself.

On the other hand, it sounds “electronic-like” without being made with much in the way of electronic equipment (Stetson stipulates that it’s all done without the use of overdubs, loops, or much studio tinkering). Comparisons are sometimes deadly, but one point of reference might be William Basinski with a different point of emphasis on the degradation of sound. Basinski pieces are about the quasi-biological workings of obsolete pieces of technology. Stetson pieces, especially on All This I Do, seem to be more like what happens when human physical capacities (his lungs and lips) imitate machines. Stetson’s circular breathing technique reduces the body to a series of inputs and outputs in which the expression (which gives these pieces their song — or speechlikeness) comes from the human variations in his playing, the minor inconsistencies, the squealing, buzzing, or cooing sounds he emits like demonic eruptions.

All the tracks here (note that it would be crude to say they were indistinguishable from one another, but keeping your eyes on the tracklisting might be a good idea) sound like they could have been made with an arsenal of sequencers and rippling arpeggiators, but it’s all the sound of one man surfing the crests of a series of pulses. Everything here, with the exception of “Spindrift,” is backed up with a spare looping beat. The roaring punk blast of “In The Clinches” is the shortest thing here, the longest being the complex peaks and troughs of “The Lure of the Mine.”

Stetson claims that All This I Do For Glory is about “ambition, legacy, afterlife, and the beginning of a doomed love story in the style of Greek tragedies.” This is not the place to discuss whether he’s talking about his own ambitions, desires, or mortality. Equally, it’s impossible for him to make the tragic dimension of the work appear inside the work itself (he has to rely on discourses external to it to do that for him). Maybe he’s not doing himself justice here. Maybe it’s less like tragedy — a culture’s self-conscious representation of how the wound of the past bleeds into the uncertain present — and rather more primordial, more like an ecstatic mating ritual in which Stetson is both the luminously feathered bird of paradise and the dowdy vessel of future works. Let’s hope there’s plenty more in the tank.

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