Erik Griswold Altona Sketches

[Room 40; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: avant-garde, prepared piano music, minimalism
Others: John Cage, Tortoise, Philip Glass

Interlocking microtonal scales, eh? Sounds neat. Let's give'r a spin then.

Hmmm... Ermmm. Uh??? Ah! Hmmm...

Prepared piano strikes me as an interesting term. Literally, it means placing objects of varying texture and density between piano strings, a method of experimentation developed by minimalist composer John Cage. Another way to imagine it is a piano that is ready to make music, no matter what the person sitting at it has in mind. And this is music, I suppose. But its improvised approach and slight melodic results produce little in the way of an emotional response.

It's an amusing fact that Griswold has performed for a contemporary Australia circus troupe (I'm thinking a smaller version of Cirque Du Soleil) called Circa. This is perfect snooty avant circus music if I've ever heard it. If Phillip Glass were more percussive with his piano work, this could be the soundtrack to Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. Meditative, yet unwieldy, this is music for chin-stroking in the dark and squeezing out caviar flatulence as quietly as possible.

Ah, but I'm showing my gouache colors here. Those who know and love this sort of thing are probably already well aware of Mr. Griswold's work. As for the rest, this, while semi-provocative in its textures, isn't easy music to get into. The central pieces, "Wednesday," "Thursday," and "Friday," are full of stops and starts. The progressions are frequently reined in by the loose and noncommittal nature of Griswold's improvising. They work best if observed in a natural context. Regarding the leaf on the branch near my window, its movements are patterned, yet flailing. This makes gazing at it in a moment of lucidity no less enticing. The four intertwined short music box and prepared toy piano interludes are less percussive and work like breaths between expeditionary junctions.

To approach the music of Altona Sketches is to approach making music yourself, with only your scatterbrained senses to guide you. It's about making moments and demurring from fragments of those moments as they threaten ease or rational calm. My trite little view of this work is that it's regal boredom distracting itself from points of immediacy. A piqued exploration of human's tentative nature, even when the piano is all "prepared" for them.

1. Imperfect Memories
2. Wednesday
3. Stops & Starts
4. Thursday
5. Pink Memories
6. Friday
7. Clicks and Pops

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