Monday, October 7, 2019

Michael Vincent Waller’s “Afterlife” of Sounds

from the Web page for the album being discussed

Last Friday saw the release of Moments, the third album consisting entirely of music by Michael Vincent Waller. Those who have followed my work for some time know that I have been following the Waller discography with interest as each new album appears, beginning with The South Shore, which was released in the spring of 2015 when I was writing for, followed by Trajectories, discussed on this site in September of 2017. Much of that discussion involved developing a concept I called “rhetoric of stillness.”

That rhetoric is still very much present in the compositions presented on Moments, all written between 2016 and 2018. However, there was a turn of phrase in Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s notes for the booklet that threw new light on the concept. Rutherford-Johnson wrote the following of Waller:
Yet the emotional heart of his music is not in attack, but resonance. The afterlife of sounds.
The noun “afterlife” struck me as particularly apposite. On further reflection I realized that the “amplitude envelope” of a sound is characterized in terms of an increasing attack and a decreasing decay. Resonance, on the other hand, is a property of the environment in which one experiences the sound, rather than one of the profile of that envelope.

When writing about Trajectories I noted that Waller had been a student of La Monte Young. In that same paragraph I compared listening to Waller’s album with listening to Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano. Upon reflection I realize that Young’s interest in just intonation allowed him to explore properties of resonance in the piano itself, rather than just in the space in which he was playing. Similarly, there are passages in Moments when it is clear that all the dampers have been lifted off all of the piano strings, suggesting that Waller, too, wishes to cultivate that “resonance in the piano itself.”

As was the case on Trajectories, most of the works are for solo piano, played by R. Andrew Lee. However, Love is a four-movement “miniature suite” for vibraphone. Structurally, the vibraphone is an instrument that prioritizes resonance over decay. Waller seems to be aware of those physical qualities that distinguish the instrument; and, through his performance, William Winant seems to make it clear that he is aware of Waller’s awareness (so to speak).

I concluded my Trajectories article by reflecting on the Days of Rage that were prevailing in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election. At that time I suggested that “stillness may be the only viable countermeasure” to the rage emerging from the opposition of sharply differing ideologies. Anyone reading this knows full well that the rage has not abated since then. Nevertheless, Waller persists in cultivating his own personal rhetoric, providing a reminder that there are cooler heads out there, even if they have yet to prevail.

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