Craig Shepard On Foot

[Edition Wandelweiser; 2011]

Styles: field composing, folk music
Others: Stefan Thut, Christian Wolff, Antoine Beuger, Katie Porter, Marcus Kaiser, Tobias Liebezeit, and Jürg Frey

Although folk auras have long been appropriated by contemporary composers, what Brooklyn resident Craig Shepard achieves on the six compositions of On Foot feels different, drenched in a lore of its own. Each piece was written in 2005 while Shepard traversed Switzerland on foot. He would pen a composition each morning, then play it on his pocket trumpet in the evening. The goal was to write works that captured the environment in which they were written. This narrative, as opposed to merely re-contextualizing traditional melodies à la Bartók, is the generation of a new folklore.

The pieces are muted, delicate, and sparse, much like Wandelweiser compatriot Stefan Thut’s field recordings of the Swiss Sefinental Valley (on Im Sefinental with Manfred Werder). But unlike those recordings, the acoustic orchestration here further engenders the folk sentiment. Christian Wolff’s melodica on “Crêt de la Neuve, le 20 juillet 2005” reverberates in a wistful manner that evokes the titular perch above Lake Geneva, the breeze across the Swiss Cross somehow summoned by his coy instrument. Whereas on “Genè, le 17 juillet 2005,” Antoine Beuger’s placid flute conjure a serene view from a Geneva harbor.

But the imagery isn’t restricted to the pieces’ native lands. In addition to referencing their compositional origins, each piece also encapsulates the location at which it was performed. The six tracks were recorded in their respective performer’s (Christian Wolff, Katie Porter, Antoine Beuger, Marcus Kaiser, Tobias Liebezeit, and Jürg Frey) work spaces. External noises, while faint, are present in each recording; the sounds of passing cars and air conditioner hums can be heard upon close inspection. It is this additional layer that elevates On Foot; the listener is transported simultaneously to locales in Switzerland and to assorted studios. Despite the possible conflicts that modern sounds may have among the expanses of the Swiss country, each composition on On Foot coalesces seamlessly into an inviting, spatial folk.

As Brian Olewnick coined in his review of this same album, one might describe On Foot as “field composing,” the codification of one’s environment into musical notation. That act alone seems daunting, but to execute it so deftly as to manifest a fog of folk as On Foot does is truly remarkable.

Links: Craig Shepard - Edition Wandelweiser

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