Robyn Schulkowsky/Nils Petter Molvær: Hastening Westward (ECM New Series 1564)

Robyn Schulkowsky
Nils Petter Molvær
Hastening Westward

Robyn Schulkowsky drums, gong, plate bell, crotales, cymbals, bronze bells
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet
Recorded January 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.”
–Samuel Beckett, Endgame

Berlin-based percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, heard most recently with Kim Kashkashian on Hayren, joins forces with Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær for a singular and lasting document. Schulkowsky has worked with some of the biggest names in modern music—Heinz Holliger, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Iannis Xenakis have all benefited from her dynamic breadth and open precision—but her performance style consistently balances humility with fortitude. In 1991, Schulkowsky composed a percussion ensemble piece entitled “Hastening westward at sundown to obtain a better view of Venus.” The title was lifted from Beckett’s final prose work, Stirrings Still, which, aside from being a vastly important book for Schulkowsky herself, sums up the feeling of this “extension” thereof most succinctly. Originally conceived as a solo project, the album was enriched with a snap decision from Manfred Eicher, who introduced Molvær into the mix. The two musicians had never met, but together they described a challenging world that remains effortless to explore.

The album is comprised of two works. Pier and Ocean, in three parts, begins freely, with more explosive drums lying in wait. Its final part is heaviest, shifting from shamanism to survivalism in a single beat. The title work fills out the bulk of the album. Over seven chapters of varying lengths, it takes its first steps in the whitened paragraphs of a wintry page. A lonesome piano airs its grievances in background. Deep drums inhale the air of mallet percussion. Yet no matter how enervated the music becomes, it always looks down at its own feet. Even the timpanic battle cries in Part 3 are laced with melancholy. Part 4 is the album’s most brilliant, as Molvær falls into a spread of echoed clangs, thus inaugurating a psychosomatic transition from rhythm into rhyme. Part 6 sounds like a seaplane landing on a lake, only we are the water receiving its foreign presence with the same yielding attention as we might give to a bird fishing from our depths. The final “hastening” is anything but, a slow drone with metallic percussion and a few brassy notes divinely attuned to the resonance of gongs.

Sadly, this project was never repeated. Considering the unusual confluence of events that produced it, however, a sequel is hardly necessary. Either way, what it has left behind is solid enough to withstand eons of peripheral development. Hastening Westward is a sublime experience that calls to you when you least expect it. It is neither the thrill of the hunt nor the agony of capture, but the single thread that connects them both.