Michael Galasso: High Lines (ECM 1713)

High Lines

Michael Galasso
High Lines

Michael Galasso violin
Terje Rypdal guitar
Frank Colón percussion
Marc Marder double-bass
Recorded November 2002 and April 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Konghaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The late violinist-composer Michael Galasso—whose solo album Scenes is a personal label favorite—returned to ECM more than two decades later with High Lines, a multifaceted set of music that draws on his love for theatre (as a longtime collaborator of dramatist Robert Wilson), film (having scored for Wong Kar-wai, Martin Provost, and many others), and dance. These activities brought him to many places around the world, among them Iran, where rhythms and melodies swirled their way into much of the writing realized here. From his soundtrack to Secret Ballot (dir. Babak Payami) to his extensive incidental work with Wilson, the program references many touchstones of Galasso’s varied career. Along with ECM stalwart Terje Rypdal on guitar (brought in at producer Manfred Eicher’s suggestion) and bassist Marc Marder with percussionist Frank Colón (brought in at Galasso’s), he opens himself to new interrelationships.

Because Scenes proved Galasso capable enough to row the waters in a boat of his own making, the presence of another distinctive voice in Rypdal bears mixed fruit. Whereas his atmospheric contributions in “Spheric” and “Fog and After” give sanctity and tactility to the surroundings, as an agent of melody his guitar feels like an afterthought in the context of tracks like “The Other” and “Swan Pond.” There’s not a single thing off about the playing itself: it’s pure Rypdal flame. It just doesn’t always have its eyes open. Then again, High Lines is more about the music than about the names behind it, and ultimately succeeds in this regard. Spread like ceremonial salt across a sumo stage, it prefaces a slow-motion ballet of powerful bodies in motion. Some of those gestures are cryptic, others hypnotic, and still others are intensely filmic. In the latter vein we have “Gothic Beach,” a brief passage pairing violin and ocean waves. Every footprint on those sands glows with life.

And really, the four strings conveying these things are the album’s heart and soul. A few pieces find Galasso multi-tracking on delicate fulcrums (“Iranian Dream” being a standout in this regard) and even experimenting with starry digital delays, as in “Boreal.” Lost travelers from Scenes (e.g., “Chaconne”) cross our paths, swaying and arpeggiating to the metronome of distant winds, while less familiar figures also sell their wares along the way. As one title would have it, this is an album of crossing colors, and in the final “Gorge Green” we have a churning stew of them. It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that Rypdal achieves strongest congruence of purpose here, tethering the journey at last to a foreseeable destination.

Yet lurking in the chemical composition of these sounds is an element that belongs to no instrument or music-maker. It is one that Galasso’s music activates of its own will, a wish made real in the asking.

Michael Galasso: Scenes (ECM 1245)

 

Michael Galasso
Scenes

Michael Galasso violin
Recorded October 1982, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Born in Louisiana in 1949, Michael Galasso picked up his first violin at age 3. After debuting with the New Orleans Philharmonic at 11, he went on to forge a unique and fascinating career. As a longtime collaborator of Robert Wilson, he composed incidental music for a host of renowned productions, including an award-winning 1998 staging of Strindberg’s A Dreamplay, in addition to being involved in numerous sound installations in museums worldwide. Many will have encountered him as the film scorer for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and most recently for Martin Provost’s Séraphine, but far too few have heard him on his own terms, divorced from the images he describes.

For his first solo album, Galasso gives us nine numbered “Scenes,” each the facet of an unfathomable jewel. It is an album to which I often played my violin by ear, trying to gain inner sight to its deeper complexities. And indeed, beyond its charming Philip Glassean veneer heaves a pair of expansive lungs that expel far more than they take in. The album has the feeling of a home recording, multi-tracked and with minimal processing applied. Despite being meticulously composed, it is also spontaneous in feel and refreshingly non-perfectionist. Some lines don’t quite sync up, as if what we hear were just a potent coincidence. From the hauntingly enigmatic (Scenes II and VI) to the whimsical (Scene III), we are privileged to stroll through this modest gallery of sound. Scene IV stands out with its boldly syncopated lead and subtle harmonizing. Others, like Scenes VII and VIII, tremble with incidental potential, seeming to spring forth from an as yet unrealized mise-en-scène. But it is the final Scene that remains closest to my heart, for its utter simplicity draws from a groundswell of bliss. Not unlike the solo work of Paul Giger, it has a magic all its own, an uncompromising sense of direction that can never be thwarted once it holds you.

Scenes is more than a soundtrack without images. Not unlike the shadow on the cover, its chapters are disembodied. We see only their negative selves, and hear only the sounds that animate them.

Sadly, Galasso passed away in his Paris home on 9 September 2009. His archive remains well guarded, but his spirit lives on through a modest discography that I can only hope will expand in the years to come.

Michael Galasso (photo by Catherine Caron)