The dominant sound on John Chantler’s latest album is the pipe organ of St John at Hackney Church, London, at which Chantler recorded several hours of music. He then processed those recordings extensively, and mixed them with others made using the Serge Modular and Buchla 200 systems at Stockholm’s EMS, the electronic music studios where he’d previously recorded Even Clean Hands Damage the Work (2014, ROOM40).
Chantler’s St John sessions culminated in a concert performance in November 2014, where Still Light, Outside was premiered on a bill that also featured Tony Conrad and Ben Frost. From memory, that set was more open and long-form, with vaulted space-filling chordal swells and layered drones. In more intimate performances, Chantler still uses an iteration of the modular synthesizer system with which he recorded The Luminous Ground (2011, ROOM40).
Appropriately enough for such a richly worked distillation of a long period of gestation, Still Light, Outside is the first release on Chantler’s own 1703 Skivbolaget label. (Having worked as senior producer at OTO Projects in London since 2011, he recently re-located to Stockholm; hence the Swedish name.)
Although the St John organ is massively present on the title piece, the three-part suite which makes up the bulk of the album, “The Long Shadow of Decline” parts I-III, has more in common with multi-source acousmatic music and its proponents, such as Bernard Parmegiani.
Rather than go for a monolithic long-form piece that might appeal to fans of noise or drone music, Chantler cuts “Still Light, Outside” abruptly short, at mid-peak intensity, after only ten minutes. Until then, however, it does attain monolithic stature. Chantler avoids ‘churchy’ soundings, but exploits the superfuzz saturation of exploratory organ stop registrations to full effect, cresting a kaleidoscopic mesh of pitch and timbre. Ratcheting quickly through intensities, new layers break through with the coarse grain of over-amped electric instrumentation. To cut this visceral, enveloping swell dead is a clear signal of compositional intent.
“The Long Shadow of Decline Pt I” begins with a purring throb that vibrates the air, but also stridulant electronic constants and irregular percussives that have the mysterious provenance of field recordings. A dimly-discernible mid-register organ figure competes with parallel piercing tones and watery glitch whorls before firming up as the movement’s guiding framework. Patiently iterated, it grounds the piece as Chantler gradually pares it back to silence over twelve minutes.
“The Long Shadow of Decline Pt II” briefly reinstates the organ’s full-spectrum throb, which sounds mechanical until Chantler layers additional sustains into a shifting, seething drone of massed chords and contrasting timbres. Sedimentary layers of more mystery synth-processed sound, including an approximate single-frequency tone like a ringing wine-glass, are only sifted out by another slow fade.
The concluding piece, “The Long Shadow of Decline Pt III” initially sounds more volatile. A mid-register organ drone just one among multiple inputs in flux, and complex, self-generating modular electronics offset by rounded, gong-like blooms of resonance. The latter provide the only sense of pulse-rhythm within this slowly evolving soundscape.
After the expected, and certainly viscerally satisfying amassing of inputs on the album’s title piece, Chantler demonstrates a more thoughtful approach on the three well-named “Long Shadow of Decline” diminuendos, favouring a patient revelation of nuance.
Each of Chantler’s releases has been stronger than the last (in addition to the Room40 albums, there’s been a string of download-only and self-released music on vinyl and cassette), but Still Light, Outside is his richest and most satisfying canvass yet.
John Chantler pipe organ, Buchla modular system, EMS synth.
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