During the latter half of 2015, I began searching for new ways to approach composition and tonality within my work in music. I’ve been producing long-form, minimalist music of one variety or another for the past decade, employing various instruments and techniques, from heavily effected guitars to abused electronics and junk metal. For the past couple years, however, due to spacial and financial constraints, I’d been limiting my tools to those I could string together on my computer — primarily software-based synthesisers and effects, and manipulated field recordings. While this approach yielded some interesting results (2015’s ‘Successors’ being among my favourites), I began to feel my methods stagnating as 2015 drew to a close. I needed sounds that were richer, more organic — something more ‘human’ and less artificial.
Simultaneously, as Winter fell upon us and the English skies turned impenetrably grey, certain events in my life also took a bleaker turn. Back home in Canada, my family were dealing with a compounding series of troubling times. My paternal Grandfather was drawing deeper into dementia; my maternal Grandmother’s cancer resurfaced; my sister was facing the end of a marriage; and Maisy, my mother’s English Cocker Spaniel, who was incredibly dear to my heart, passed away with a suddenness that left me distraught. With these events and others taking place an ocean away, I felt not only morose, but utterly powerless, disconnected, and fragile.
I thus found myself turning frequently to music that reflected the sorrow and void I felt so heavily in my heart. The holy minimalism of Arvo Pärt, Greg Haines’ earlier works in modern classicalism, Thomas Köner’s darkened aural landscapes, Nils Frahm’s more somber piano works, and Julia Kent’s layers of cello formed the backdrop to my days. So it was that, when I eventually felt prepared to express my emotions in the form of music, my palette was very much steeped in the sounds of the pipe organ, piano, and strings, with hints of amorphous electronics and textures. With this instrumentation in mind, I began to explore the possibilities of combining my penchant for drones with a more ‘classical’ selection of sounds.
Without having access to the actual instruments I most desired to make use of, my first task was to source out a convincing array of sampled instruments, with which I could construct arrangements on my computer. I had been using a particularly striking and beautifully-sampled pipe organ for my work on ‘Successors’, and it was with this that I began to work on the initial arrangements for what became ‘For Light and Time’. The first track of the album was composed solely with this pipe organ, with the final recording being a ten-minute improvisation laid down in a single take without overdubs. It is a heavily-layered piece, drawn very much out of the sense of anxiety I felt at the time — but also a sense of awe at the transformative impact of death upon the living. In fact, much of this album is itself provoked by an unfolding inner dialogue on the subject of mortality.
An upright piano soon made its way into my library, and this formed the beginning of the album’s second track. ‘II’ is something of a continuation and evolution of the first track’s direction, with the composition moving from isolated and despondent piano into a mirage of low-humming organ and mid-range drones, springing forth from feelings of overwhelming powerlessness.
I feel I knew even before beginning work on this album that its centrepiece would be an elegy in memory of Maisy; because of this, the composition became difficult to approach. I shared with Maisy a connection that was richer than many I’ve shared even with fellow humans. My mourning for her was profound; for days, I didn’t leave the apartment, confining myself to reflection and an incredible depth of sorrow. To this day, I still experience surges of emotion at this loss of one of my dearest companions.
‘III (for Maisy)’ is the sole passage on this recording to receive a specific dedication in title, and it is formed of a humble attempt to approach a composition similar to a canon — with variations on a core melodic progression repeating and growing atop one another for an extended duration. In this fashion, it evolves into a sustained trembling of melodies which diverge and reunite, in a sense emulating the waves of contemplation and memory that form its impetus. This recording took by far the longest to complete out of the four on this album — indeed, I don’t believe I’ve ever spent longer on a single piece of music. The particular challenge of structuring the layers of bass, cello, and violin in a manner that sounded at once independent and complementary (especially difficult given my total lack of formal training in music), and my attempts to create a tonality which didn’t convey too heavily a sense of artificial synthesis, all formed a technical hurdle which compounded the tension inherent in forming the composition. While the result may not completely convey the sense of realism I hoped to achieve, I hope it will be interpreted as an appropriate tribute to the ‘sister’ that so deeply touched my life.
The album concludes with its fourth composition, which may be one of the more unique arrangements I’ve attempted in recent years. The piece’s opening progressions are a rejection of the traditionally infinite sustain that is a mainstay of so much of my work. Instead, the introduction alternates between three unadorned keys of the upright piano, and accompaniment by violins which halt suddenly before beginning anew with additional counterpoints. This cycle continues until it is subsumed by the return of the pipe organ, which leads into the album’s closing and conflicting crescendo. In a sense, this piece is very much a pause for delicate reflection, but also a representation of the forces of nature that rule over our lives — forces which we as a species spend so much time attempting in vain to suppress.
I have spent more time both preparing for and working on ‘For Light and Time’ than I have with nearly any previous recording. As such, I recognise within it not only the intensity of effort involved, but also its inherent conflicts. Its palette is one of organic instrumentation, but it is made up entirely of imitations of the same. Its motifs are grounded in inspiration from sacred music, but the work itself is decidedly secular. It attempts to mimic compositional models of formal arrangements, things which I have no training in whatsoever. Out of these conflicts, however, I feel that something cohesive, effective, and representative of its intentions has emerged. The album is one which gives rise to a certain level of satisfaction within myself, but more than anything, I consider it a sombre reflection on mortality, and, I hope, a reverent tribute to those who have left us, and those who remain.
released January 17, 2016
Composed, recorded and mixed by Cole Peters, 11/15–01/16.
all rights reserved