David Darling: Dark Wood (ECM 1519)

David Darling
Dark Wood

David Darling cello
Recorded July 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In the middle of the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood
For the straight way was lost.
–Dante Alighieri

Cellist David Darling continues where he left off on Cello, furthering the rings and grains of “Darkwood,” a multitracked suite drawn in otherwise acoustic measures, of which the latter four parts appear here. While such name might evoke visions of shadow and deepest night, each part starts its titled sections with anything but. Darkwood IV opens its eyes to the “Dawn” while V passes through “Light,” which marks the “Beginning” VI and illuminates downward to “The Picture” in Darkwood VII. The latter is one of the most heart-tugging pieces Darling has ever recorded, weaving tender threads of thought whose philosophies are drawn from the wayside where others have left their faith. Stained tones cradle us in cloud and wind, leveling stepwise motions into molasses tide, proceeding ever deeper into a monochromatic ceiling, at the center of which a light drives away the spirits of insects whose flights are captured “In Motion.” In the starlit expanse of these dreams, we step on floes of ice, each an eye closed by lids of water as it sinks.

Such are the stories, rising from within rather than falling from without. Plunged into the heavy pizzicato of “Earth,” Darling sparks kindling by torchlight, casting bones into a hearth of sky. In its smoke we find the fantasy of a folksong trembling in wake of sunset. Primal cry in slow motion, harmonic ostinato and trembling alto line—these connect one spirit to another and arch their heads, slingshots at the ready. Only instead of a sudden unleashing we get the meditative crawl of fadeout. “Searching” is the cello equivalent of Paul Giger’s “Birth Of The Bull,” which pries open its mortality to find that in death there is life, and in “Medieval Dance” we feel hands touching and releasing, bodies whirling in smoky midnight, following harvest and offering. This leaves only “Returning,” and the eclipse of “New Morning,” where hints of infinity plough and turn like the soil from which they were born, lustful for nothing but absence.

Ultimately, such (di)visions become as arbitrary as the names ascribed to them, etched as they are in perpetual cosmic change. They skip across the chasm of time, closing their parched lips around morsels of memory along the way. Darling bows his cello as if with a comet’s tail and leaves us similarly alone beneath a stretch of sky, harps at Poseidon’s call, hoping for that next chance encounter between perception and transience.

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