Recently I have been finding some PR companies that send things your way that initially interest you and then they start sending anything else that they represent across. For that reason I started unsubscribing to lists I never subscribed to and stopped getting non specific music. So it is a great thing when there are good PR people out there that know their targeted demographic and come though with the goods. George Corona III from Terrorbird Media is one that knows what to pass my way and so, I find myself somewhat daunted, checking out the new Christopher Tignor album “A Light Below” on Western Vinyl. I say daunted because of the highly thoughtout and almost, well not academic, but there is a strong musical knowledge, software development (Tignor works at Google developing Software), experimentation, intent and purpose behind the music on this album.
“Tignor has released 9 LP’s across the Western Vinyl and New Albion labels to critical acclaim within the classical and experimental communities. He has collaborated with numerous artists at the boundaries of music including Keith Kenniff (Helios), Jefre Cantui-Ledesma, John Congleton, and Post Rock titans This Will Destroy You. While a young artistin NYC, Tignor mixed bands at CBGB’s, was an assistant to La Monte Young and Marion Zazeela, and served as the technical director for 9 years for a New Music festival produced by Philip Glass. Tignor discovered computers through his college electronic music studio (as a creative writing major), subsequently obtained his masters in computer science from NYU, proceeded through Princeton’s PhD program in music composition.”
When it comes to this particular album Tignor expands on the techniques of his previous album “Along A Vanishing Plane” with violin processing, kick drum triggered synths, tuning forks, hi-hats, triangles and bells”. Tignor in his own words “created a space for truly contemporary and highly expressive instrumental narratives” and for this album he states that he “departed for territory even more emotionally ambitious, more dramatic. I’m also pushing my instrument’s technique further”. As you can see in the video below there is a lot of time and effort to producing Tignor’s music that could be possibly overlooked. That knowledge or understanding of his methods and how the pieces are constructed adds to the enjoyment of the album as it sheds a light on what it takes for the pieces to come to fruition. From time to time the process of what goes on behind the scenes in the construction and recording pieces of music can be a mystery, so its enlightening from some of processes to be revealed as it adds an extra layer of interest to the music.
The album feels of one that could easily be slotted into movie scenes. There is a dark moodiness to the majority of the pieces which is noticeable with the opener “Flood Cycles”. On “Flood Cycles” Tignor puts down a gauntlet with moody, swirling electronics and his now trademark tuning forks (for which he is sponsored by Wittner) creating a piece that oscillates in the mood and intent. Tignor balances the darker, slightly threatening synths with a melodic ambience. The tuning forks come in towards the end of the piece and increase the tension in the music before the track nicely morphs into “Your Slow Moving Shadow, My Inevitable Night” which is were Tignor takes his chosen instrument, the violin, and runs with it. Put through his custom software which creates a cascade of sound that incorporates the violin and electronics, there is a noticeable rise in the tension of the music especially after “Flood Cycles”. It is here that you appreciate the technical aspects of the music and the methods of experimentation in which Tignor creates his pieces. Towards the end of the piece the music moves away to a more Modern Classical meets Ambient style.
With “Known By Heart” Tignor becomes a one man mini Orchestra. Mournful strings abound as does the ocassional bass drum beat and scattershot electronics, but the overwhelming feature of the piece is the way that it moves through slow paced minimalism to accentuated maximimalism which brings back the tension in the music, especially in the way the piece retreats and rebuilds. In some way I am reminded of the work of Ben Frost in the way that both artists fuse acoustic instruments with electronics and have a cinematic scope and depth.
“A Mirrored Reliquary” expands upon the styles of the previous works, using silence to break the piece into movements and highlights the fact that if this were purely just a violin centred release that it would be just as enjoyable, such is the quality of playing and sound. When emcompassed with his synth, electronics, drum beats and software the music reaches a magical apex that is enhanced by the silence that follows and sees Tignor return with his looped violin pieces showing the listener a plaintive mood. Although not a single released prior to the album, it nicely encompasses Tignor’s various styles in the one piece with an emphasis on balancing extremities.
Released as one of the two singles from the album “I, Autocorrelations” is a propulsive percussive beast full of violin that screeches and warps with swathes of electronics bathe the piece early on. The feeling of a mini Orchestra once more returns as the layers that make up the piece evoke a feeling of a quartet creating a fully fleshed out work, rather than a solo musician. From time to time you occasionally encounter string based musicians whose work can rest on one level and that is not the case in this situation. I am unsure of the gestational period of the album (there is just over a three year period between this album and when “Along A Vanishing Plane” was released), but whatever it was Tignor has clearly spent a lot of time in deep composer mode as the proof is in these highly considered and complete pieces.
Before checking out the next piece I recommend you view the instructional video below as it highlights what goes into the construction of “The Resonance Canons”. Anything I have said before about the methods of construction of the pieces is visible for all too see. You can see and hear how Tignor can use a small amount of instrumentation and get such a big response. Also the way the music is made with tuning forks > violin >software and the sounds that are generated and then shaped exposes the listener to new ways of hearing. Being the longest track on the album at just over eleven minutes in length it allows Tignor to explore more territory from the tuning forks, etc… mentioned before through to beats and cymbals to the throws of the synth. There’s a definite retro feel in the synths with their slightly ominous quality that makes me think of a movie like “The Shining” and how music like this would easily fit into the visual scope of a movie such as that.
“What You Must Make Of Me” brings the album to a close with a piece that for me blends his violin and software pieces into a piece that feels somewhat like a statement. It is cinematic in nature as Tignor varies the balance of light and dark and feels like it is cut from a similar cloth to “Known By Heart”. When I mention that it’s like a statement, to me the book ends of an album can be road maps of some kind. They can either loop around from where they came, provide a peek into the future or set about defining the album. As I am not familiar with Tignor’s vast catalog prior to this album it would be presumptuous on my part to assume that they link to the future (especially not knowing his past), so I am of the opinion that the track is a statement of the artist’s intent as a composer. The breadth of the piece would be found in some other artists complete albums let alone in one track. With the piece Tignor makes his Violin central as he moves through territories that are largely tied to a Modern Classical feel by nature, but are not wholly constrained by this style. In any case this piece leaves the album on a high point which is fitting as the album is a consistently strong work that draws the listener in.
If you are a new listener then “A Light Below” is a fantastic entry point with its mix of Modern Classical, Electronics and Experimental influences coming together to create an album full of engaging, intelligent and enjoyable pieces. “A Light Below” is out on Western Vinyl and is available an Lp, CD and Digital.