Cristián Alvear and d’incise – “Bow down thine ear, I bring you glad tidings ” [mappa, 2020]

Cristián Alvear & d’incise
Bow down thine ear, I bring you glad tidings
[mappa, 2020]

mappa is a small imprint based out of Lucenec, Slovakia that began in 2016 which operates “various approaches to sound derived from phenomenologies of listening… on a thin border between something and nothing.” Their latest release to an already stellar catalog of modern experimental composition is a collaboration between Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear and Swiss reductionist/sound artist d’incise (Laurent Peter), who also mixed and edited this collection of sounds, Bow down thine ear, I bring you glad tidings.

I happened across this newest offering on release day by pure happenstance, despite my being a casual fan of the label already. I was browsing Bandcamp looking for some hot action when the eerie, vaguely rudimentary psychedelic storybook aesthetic provided for the release by Pilgrim Talk’s label-head Nick Hoffman immediately caught my eye. Still shaking with joy after reading Andy Douglas Day’s magnificent graphic novel Boston Corbett earlier this year, Hoffman’s art direction was a perfect dessert for my otherwise understandably acquired aesthetic taste. Imagine my surprise to glance down at the liner notes to see I had arrived precisely at the ribbon cutting!

Unlike myself, Cristián Alvear is no newcomer. His intensely disciplined guitar work is highly regarded in the international classical scene, with years of wonderful releases and often near-silent compositions inhabiting realms of pure intonation study, environmental field explorations, and, among much else, singular EAI collaborations with other contemporary artists such as the one released here by mappa

Alvear’s often seemingly understated guitar playing, a compositional aesthetic shared by onkyo and musique concrete contemporaries such as Taku Sugimoto and Michael Pisaro (themselves collaborators with d’incise), has much more bite here thanks to Peter’s sonic direction and the deft assimilation of various unspecified idiophones within the landscape. On Side A (“Let the night perish…”), Alvear’s obsessive repetition of esoteric harmonic phrases plods along like some improvised war drum for a global conflict of circus insects, illuminated at the end of passages by the sharp juxtaposed dissonance of d’incise’s glasslike percussive and drone contributions. This side, which arguably begins from a place of warm acoustic familiarity, eventually descends into a sickly and distorted horizon where even the heavily repeated motif begins to translate into more and more alien contexts thanks to Peter’s unique method of synthesis. It’s as if Peter took Alvear’s strings themselves and began to unwind them throughout the movement’s near twenty minutes, turning six tight and taut sound sources into a sort of witches broom by which to sweep the space “Let the night perish…” resides in. It’s an engrossing listen, but it does understandably feel a little less pleasing to the ear as some of Alvear’s more reserved acoustic work. As I often am, I was listening to this release for the first time while fiddling with work, and throughout Side A, it was hard to escape a creeping sense of dread. Mappa had this to say of the recording:

“The static structure of the pieces allows the music to function as a sound sculpture – breaking time constraints in favour of continuous duration and acting in a multi-perspective way. This material does not promise any solution, but strictly accompanies the listener and tries to close itself in the continuous present.”

The very nature of the present is shifted then with Side B, “Who can from joy refrain?”, a softer piece which seems less concerned with adhering to the rigidity of Alvear’s composition and his guitar’s timbre on Side A and more comfortably leans into an almost passive ambient headspace which begins to relieve this prevailing sense dread. Peter’s idiophones still tie the track together with the breathy mirage of vibrations coating the air around Alvear’s pseudo-melodic pluckings. By the end, all evidence of acoustic instrumentation is lost to d’incise’s refraction-obsessed sonic direction. The tape fades out, d’incise’s final contributions oscillate like a drinking bird in water, forever transforming/or transformed by Alvear.

Bow down thine ear, I bring you good tidings is heavily-influenced by the work of Baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695); the tape’s title and the tracklist are pulled directly from pieces of his own writing. In detranslating Purcell’s work, both sonically and textually, Alvear and Peter perhaps seek to create a new method of detachment from the historical and sometimes linear nature of composition. The duo create a space that is entirely dependent on the existence of a form and technique, yet completely removed from the confines of narrative. While these pieces are a distillation of a history, they only truly feel agency by the conscious or unconscious dilution of what has preceded their meeting. That is to say, Bow down…is ultimately dependent on d’incise being dependent on Alvear who were both dependent on Purcell. And how does dependence still then translate to a listener who is attempting to live independently from the sounds themselves, in “the continuous present” as mappa puts it? A curious standoff, indeed.

Ultimately, these are questions for the ages, not for the moment. In this moment, Alvear and Peter offer us two wonderfully strange and sonically unique additions to both of their storied discographies, and mappa continues to be a gold standard for atypical experimental composition. I continue to look forward to work from both artists, within and without mappa.