David Darling acoustic cello, 8-string electric cello
Recorded November 1991 and January 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
David Darling’s Cello is one of the most stunning albums ever to be released on ECM in any genre. Its fluid paths feel like home. Darling plows the improvisatory depths of his soul, given free rein in the studio to paint the negative spaces in between those clouds on the album’s cover, ever deeper, ever truer to the core of something alive. Most journeys might take you across some distance to get you to where you’re going, yet few will actually unpack where you are standing with such complex, unabashed glory that one need not take a single step to travel to the end of the universe and back. Cello is one such journey.
The opening “Darkwood I” carries us into a state of bliss unlike any other, finding its interest in the empty spaces of time that define our action and thought alike. “No Place Nowhere” swells with the blessing of life, finding in every shift of light a new window through which Darling casts the details of his destiny through shadow. One finds here a long and winding road into horizon, forever receding, that is the vanishing point in sound, the blessing and the curse of beauty, the sweeping gesture of aesthetic pleasure rolled humbly into a never-ending circle. The bird calls of “Fables” dance in the sky like time-lapsed aurora borealis, twisting our sense of time to the tune of something divine. “Dark-wood II” is a wilting flower, a lakeside flower dropping spores. “Lament” lowers us in swaddling into the slow-motion cradle of the wind, the mountain veil as a crook in a mother’s arm, singing our souls softly to sleep. “Two Or Three Things” evokes Jean-Luc Godard with its softly flowing landscape of water and wind, grass and foam, where swim the vagaries of our modern life against the tide of regression that is our calling into death. This breathtaking journey guides us into a place that is so deeply inside us that we must disappear to find it. “Indiana Indian,” forever my favorite track on the album, begins in a harmonic swirl before loosing a pizzicato chain of finely honed memories. A jazzy half-note swing brings us into the enthralling drama of “Totem.” Here, an ocean of double stops, a tidal wave of lilting lines, leaving an imprint of “Psalm” in the sands. Its protracted antiphony sheds its clothing to reveal “Choral.” This Möbius drop into solitude, where harmony offers the illusory promise of companionship in a world without bodies, whispers at the interstices of our alienation. “The Bell” has the makings of an Arvo Pärt choral work with its microtonal harmonies and tintinnabulations. “In November” rounds a cinematic edge, rolling over into a low and calming thunder and ending with the yellowing strains of “Darkwood III.”
On paper, these might seem little more than chromatic exercises, but in the vastness of Darling’s playing, combined with Eicher’s attention to space, they achieve a meditative state in which the simplest musical utterances become the most profound. Eicher’s touch can be ever felt in the sound and in the melodic elements he has provided, showing us that he is not only a fine producer, but also has a supremely sensitive ear for melody and, above all, time. For this improvised session, Eicher told Darling to go as deep as he could go, thus expressing the spirit of the label at heart, not to mention the spirit of what a musician can achieve when open to infinity.