Artist: Andrew Keeling
"Follow nature!" cries Paracelsus in the notes for Blue Dawn, advice which Andrew Keeling has acted upon for several years. Going against the prevailing direction, his writing has been steering a path from egg-headed complexities associated with much of the clatter of the contemporary classical scene, to a pared-back approach unconcerned with knotty grandstanding or intertextual SFX. Opening with a single attention-gathering piano note, "Distant Skies, Mountains And Shadows" delicately unfurls into the ruminative ambience of the Kerzo Chapel in The Hague. The particular pathway Keeling charts for the piano flute and clarinet of the Het Trio maybe angled and occasionally steep, but throughout the piece radiates lyrical warmth. However the real heart of the album is to be found in 'Blue Dawn'. Written between 2005/6 it consists of seven solo piano pieces touchingly played by Steven Wray. Though each is individually titled they work best when listened to in one sitting. Occupying the hushed spaces from which 'Pärt's 'Für Alina' resonates, the themes gently see-saw between light and dark, between hope and fear, constructing a solemn reverie from starkly-drawn materials. Yet the effect of these halting, sensitive movements is anything but austere or simple. Over the course of a half hour, ?Blue Dawn? creates a soundtrack to haunting dreams that touch upon the losses we experience and the gains which may be found arising from them. The dawn of a new day can be viewed as a mere set of physical reactions within the natural world, or something, despite its repetition, that is resplendently unique. With a luminous clarity, Keeling probes for that startling, fresh beauty residing within the mundane, and which leaves us breathless when we find it. Magnificent. Review by Sid Smith
As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing. ~ T.S. Elliot
The unconscious has no time. There is no trouble about time in the unconscious. Part of our psyche is not in time and not in space. They are only an illusion, time and space, and so in a certain part of our psyche time does not exist at all. ~ Carl Jung
I've listened to the music of Andrew Keeling for an extended period of time, and found it pleasing from the first I heard it. He sent three CDs to me some many months ago, but I was drawn to his Blue Dawn repeatedly for it's simplicity and honest sentiment. Contentment and simplicity haven't been a steady diet for me this past year, and I found myself listening to this piece without a thought to analyze or desire to describe it so much as a need to feel what it gave me in those sounds. It became a place to be when thiings got confusing, and most recently a troubling period of sleeplessness send me to the album to find a bit of peace. It has been for me a visit to the pleasant notion of a clockwork universe where all things have a place, which concept of time and space has generally been replaced with something messy involving strings and paradoxes looped around in a confusing mashup of science and hypothesis. I feel safe and protected in the landscape of Blue Dawn. When I discovered through emails with Mr. Keeling his love of Carl Jung, I became fascinated with the thought that Keeling's subconscious was a safe, familiar place for him. He respects and embraces both the aesthetics of T.S. Eliot and of Carl Jung, but prefers Carl to T.S. and centers his creativity where Elliot might not be quite so comfortable.
Composer Andrew Keeling writes a textured, inviting music to welcome a listener to a place beneath and within. Keeling's "Blue Dawn" leads me to a safe spot between my ears where melodies emerge like bubbles in a quiet stream. Each of the tunes that make up the album "Blue Dawn" offer a unique glimpse in reverse of a snapshot of consciousness, as the iridescence from his private glimpse of the collective unconscious. Each bubble in the stream in this Dawn is it's own fragment of a hologram delivered in time from a timeless place. Andrew's album is an oasis and a mirage, inviting me to a place still moving and yet still unmoved. I find this album helps me dream, but won't let me nod until the last tone is sounded. It can hold me aware in the twilight of the day awaiting the break of another awakening.
Keeling's music has elements of song forms, strident English ballad, modern elements and some current techniques. He isn't from any particular school of sound, but finds his inspiration in dreams and muses in the wellspring of a peaceful subconscious. Andrew Keeling is a songwriter at heart. His melodies are broken like pieces of a puzzle to allow a rich exploration of the source of his song. He has been the champion of composition by Robert Fripp since the 1960's and has written about those King Crimson compositions with extraordinary clarity, written the "Musical Guides" to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic," "In The Wake of Poseidon" and co-authored with Mark Graham "A Musical Guide to King Crimson." Keeling has even been invited to arrange new versions of King Crimson's songs, and Robert Fripp's cluster filled clouds called "Soundscapes." The sweet consonant music of Blue Dawn is the more powerful to me coming from one who celebrates clusters, angularity and outright dissonance in others. He has the courage and inner peace to present a personal world of sound calmer and more inviting than my own best case scenario of a world view in the current circumstances. His spirit is kinder than my own in its embrace of contemplation and exploration of the uncontrollable subconscious or that collective unconscious I daresay I don't quite understand. I'm pleased to have met this music and the man who created it, if only through emails, videos, and his collaborations with former KC violinist David Cross. I greet this Blue Dawn as a hopeful beginning to a hopeful new phase in my ever changing experience. I once asked David Harrington of the Kronos String Quartet how he knew when an interpretation works, and he replied, "Well, first of all it pleases you." I've often thought that music is what is does, and if it doesn't move me, then it doesn't matter. I find this music moves me. I can hear time signatures and recognize clusters, chords, and arpeggios well enough, but that's not why I listen. This album pleases me. That's my considered critical opinion. I like what it makes me feel. I feel at home in the Blue Dawn.
"I also have to say 'muses' are important in the process of writing. Visible and invisible. People often appear who provide a trigger for pieces. For me, shadow and anima are greatly important in this. Everything happens in the shadow." ~ Andrew Keeling
DISTANT SKIES, MOUNTAINS AND SHADOWS (performed on piano, flute and clarinet by The Het Trio at Kerzo Chapel in The Hague)
This song begins with a repeated note on the piano, which might support a dive into minimalism but that suggestion turns out to be a misdirect. There are events in this music constructed in ascending notes and cracked arpeggios like fragments gurgling toward and melody. Keeling's composition dances between ascension and dissolution like some apprentice Merlin practicing levitation on various objects in a pastoral clearing. There's a palpable sense of longing looped through this tapestry like the basil in a complex gourmet confection at some overpriced eatery. Keeling's appreciation of the natural world is as keen as the sensual world of poet Elizabeth Bishop describing the view at a National Park. Even the stones have a story to tell in Andrew's universe.
MIRARE (performed by Matthew Wadsworth on theorbo) (Wiki for the theorbo)
What a gift to hear the theorbo in a contemporary composition! The range of the instrument and Matthew Wadsworth's extraordinary ability with it tricked me into believing there must be more than one of him. Keeling's composition unveils itself in cells of melody between bookends of silence. Utilizing the extraordinary range of this instrument must be a challenge and an opportunity. There is a moment early in the piece where an astonishing chord is strummed just the once across both first and second peg boxes for a sound I've never heard before. This extended song clocks in at 15:07 and could well be enough to justify the album. A new instrument is a new way of thinking, and this new instrument dates back to the 16th Century. I've added this one to the Warr Guitars and Chapman Sticks in my memory as an experience that extended my understanding of how music can be played. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." I had to resort to Shakespeare on this one. It's a lovely new experience and a piece worth repeating a few times on iTunes to take it all in. The sounds played in this song are so clear and diverse it's enough to make the common lute player cry.
PETIT REQUIEM POUR BASIL (performed by Scottish ensemble TripleSec with narration by Rosalind Rawnsley) The haunting sound of Rosalind Rawnsley singing and narrating this requiem for the unexpected death of a colleague has a sense of immediacy and resonance like that of a voice in a dream, if that dream is in French. There is genuine shock and sadness in her voice, through the flute and piano work of TripleSec which is appropriately playful and somewhat suggestive in fleeting moments of Debussey's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun." I've experienced the death of family members recently enough to remember the laughter among the waves of sadness. This song has the feel of performance art to me, but without the common "experimental" flaws of that form. Listening to this song at night in bed, it feels like a voice in a dream full of poignant, prophetic resonance. There are occasional quotes in the music which will add flavor whether they are recognized or not. I like this technique of composition, which is familiar in jazz, but a bit less common in composition. It adds meaning like a quote from some other text included in the story. The spirit is willing but my French is weak. I enjoy hearing this piece without translation as a trigger for my own subconscious to fill in whatever meaning it needs at the moment. Just plain sounds like prophecy from some oracle, or the words of a Cassandra. Meaning is less important to me sometimes and the deeper resonance. I'm thinking of Coltrane again, so I'll toss in the quote for what it's worth.
?I never even thought about whether or not they understand what I'm doing . . . the emotional reaction is all that matters as long as there's some feeling of communication, it isn't necessary that it be understood.? ~ John Coltrane
BLUE DAWN (performed on piano by Steven Wray) "Follow nature!" ~ Paracelsus (from the notes for Blue Dawn)
1ST MOVEMENT ? CAELA "Caela, for example, came as a result of hearing a woman say the word 'caela' to me in a dream. It means 'out of the forest'. I had no idea prior to this." ~ Andrew Keeling Now the forest in my mind is always a place from the Brother's Grimm. It is a place of mystery and danger, simlar to the land in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" from whence comes arrows shot by unseen foes and such as that. I have little sense of that danger in Keeling's Caela, but then again he's far more at home in the subconscious than I have yet become. Andrew's forest story is full of drama and transformation. It seems to seek resolution from the start, and toys with a return to the tonic like a boy wanting to go home only to be pulled away time and time again by mysterious forces and other creatures familar and unfamiliar. Church chords and arpeggios populate this narrative on piano which ends with a reassuring ascendance in the upper register.
2ND MOVEMENT ? THE HOUSE OF EROS
"The House of Eros came a result of walking on Haworth Moor to Top Witherns." ~ Andrew Keeling
The repeated opening three-note phrase resembles a bird song slowed down for clarity, but it developes with complicating harmonies gently and quietly into a tender creature of unknown origin. Space and silence are used effectively, along with some instances of repetition which hypnotize a little like minimal fragments of an incantation.
3RD MOVEMENT ? KINDERTOTENLIED
"Kindertotenlied was in response to a dream when a man told me his daughter, Zoe, was dying." ~ Andrew Keeling
The news of the death of a loved one can suck the air out of the room. Keeling manages to suggest that airless quality with a poignant charm. The slow but building realization of an emotion develops for me as the piece finds it's pace. All music exists in time along a line but this piece suggests stillness which is nonlinear and paradoxically eternal. Go figure? I've felt such things before, but seldome heard them with more tenderness in song.
4TH MOVEMENT ? RESURGAM (AFTER J.D.)
Resurgam (latin: "I shall rise again") is the name given to two early Victorian submarines designed and built by Reverend George Garrett as a weapon to penetrate the chain netting placed around ship hulls to defend against attack by torpedo vessels. (from Wiki)
There is indeed a rising in this piece slowly to a kind of surface. A tiny chord in the upper register repeated close to a dozen times with just one slight change at the end takes me to a contemplative place on a tranquil sea. Well worth the trip.
5TH MOVEMENT ? MANA
Sparse and beautiful. Sweet reverent quiet and full of silence. A companion piece to Morton Feldman's piano pieces. Just lovely.
6TH MOVEMENT ? HYMN: BLUE DAWN
A nod to Amazing Grace, which is a song as close to a miracle as Shenandoah. This piece has near as much heart as a folk melody by great generous Anonymous. That's priceless. A beautiful piece. For any composer now to have such warmth is as astonishing as Gorecki's "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" was a blindside of beauty after a life of 12-tone.
7TH MOVEMENT ? FORGET-ME-NOT "Forget-me-Not was written in one sitting. So, yes, titles are an important stimulus."
~ Andrew Keeling Ascending and descending with minor chord complications and then resolve. Sweet courageous resolve coming from a piece as Iberian as Eric Sati. As sweet as a lullaby in it's quiet reverence.
THE CASE FOR CONSONANCE
The celebrated freedoms of current composition have the doors widely swung for anything but resolution. Think about it. Any piece that ends on the tonic is the subject of ridicule. The chords of the common period in classical music have been avoided as traitorous to the movement by new music Nazis. I am truly moved by a great live performance of Schoenberg on the right night, and I can't do the math, but that's not a steady diet for me and I never ever reach for the 12-tone when I'm feeling bad and looking for a lift. So Andrew Keeling includes great big church chords at the end of this album and they have the consonant release of "God is in his heaven, the cats are purring, and all is right with the world." I love that feeling, and I do truly hate to hear happy on a bad day and once trashed "Up With People" over three reviews for no purpose other than to vent frustration at unsupported optimism in a troubled world. Unfounded happy talk is deadly, and sounds to me like razor blades on a chalkboard. But I love the courage of this sophisticated, kind and fine intellect Keeling in his embrace of the beauty of the harmonic values hard wired into the physics of music and I consider him to be a man out of time with a heart bigger than Webern in his stingy little tunes. Composer John Adams gets it, and I love him for that. He's another child at the coronation shouting out that the king has no clothes in his joke about Webern, "Here's an E flat. Use it well." I like what Andrew has to say, and his mind is clearly less troubled than my own. I'd like some of that for my ownself, and he can play those funky major chords all day in my book. His understanding of angular chords is deep as evidenced by his brilliant analysis and exposition of the compositions of Robert Fripp which he has championed since 1960. That he doesn't restrict his music to the traveling chords or clusters demanded by puerile purists of the new is a sign of courage in my book, and a demonstration of freedom of choice damn near lost on the zealots of "serious" composition. I love me some dissonance, but that's not all I love. Prokofiev should have been spanked for writing "The Stone Flower," because that pretty music is cloying and empty and somewhat traitorous to his own musical story since he allowed Stalin to dictate his taste. Keeling is nothing of that sort. It's his party and he'll write what he feels. At CalArts there were numb skulls who thought it revolutionary to ride bikes through the crowd at a concert of Handel yelling "Give us new music." Those idiots are working in banks and law firms and looking back at the hubris they embraced in their youth. There's always room for warmth in music and any narrow system, movement, or understanding of sound that don't allow for it is doomed to find a place on the trash heap of history. I had a bad month that robbed me of sleep and just suffered through it feeling sick, but the best moment of the day sometimes was listening to Keeling's astonishingly kind chords at the end of this album, after a hearty exploration of fragmented song and broken Hallelujahs in the majority of his music. Freedom only happens at the moment of choice. Limit your choices and you limit your freedom. It takes courage to love in this world and trust is in short supply. Let's make room for consonance without flashing that superior smile and thinking we are smarter than the music. This music fits right alongside my Kronos Quartet, Jörg Widman, Unsuk Kim, and John Adams albums. "Nuff said.
"All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.? ~ John Coltrane
I experienced an epiphany in an outdoor concert in Ojai where Pierre Boulez was conducting György Ligeti's "Lux Aeturna" at it's appropriate double pianissimo (not the cranked up version heard in Kubrick's 2001). The audience sat quietly, but the birds in the trees considered it a sing-along, indiscreetly overpowering the piece with the enthusiasm of their song. The trees didn't sing for Igor Stravinsky's "La Noche" or Pierre's own "Malarmé Variations." Birds like Ligeti. More than 20 years later in Ohio, I was reminded of that day while listening to Blue Dawn in preparation for this review on a hot day. Beyond the screen the Cardinals, state birds of Ohio, and all their companions were singing at the top of their beaks. I tested this observation with some pop on my iTunes, and noticed the trees got quiet again. I had mentioned the birds in that review of Boulez at Ojai, so I'll mention it here. Birds like Ligeti and Andrew Keeling. I shared this delightful fact with the composer and he acknowledged that he was familiar with Lux Aeturna. He added that he kept a budgy in a cage near his piano, and he had noticed that the bird sang along loudly to consonant chords, but either didn't sing or sang quietly to dissonance. Apparently birds like consonance and micropolyphany in Andrew and György's music. Are the birds of Vienna partial to the Viennese School? I have my doubts. Nature has its laws, and it has its preferences. Review by Billys Bunker