Keith Rowe / John Tilbury – enough still not to know

EnoughStill

enough still not to know contains around 3.5 hours of improvised music on 4 CDs. It was produced by visual artist Kjell Bjørgeengen for one of his own video installations, and we are told that Bjørgeengen requested: “a kind of music which musically and conceptually worked with dissolution and unification, combined with long sections of silence.”

There are certainly long periods of silence on this set, but the music that pianist John Tilbury and sound artist Keith Rowe recorded for Bjørgeengen is never static. Occasionally, pianistic shimmers will emerge and merge in riffles, but more often, rather than dissolving and unifying, discrete sound events break silences as abruptly as stones falling into water.

Rowe’s contributions, in particular, are often almost subliminal; softly humming electronic drones, or sometimes airy whirring like a hand-held fan gently ruffling paper; sheer atmospheres into which Tilbury’s ivory droplets or infinitesimal bowed steel gestures break like chinks of light. The most emphatically resonant sounds are islanded or archipelagic piano preparation metallophonics.

The recording is pin-drop close, and the musicians’ movements, no matter how careful, are discernible as creaks and minutely suspenseful stresses of shift and settlement. It’s tempting to think of enough still not to know in Cageian terms, a 3:33 if you will, upping the stakes on Cage’s 4’33”. And although that’s not an accurate analogy—Rowe and Tilbury were, after all, instructed to actually play their instruments—this music’s necessary attentiveness on any and all sound within the recording environment owes Cage a debt.

Another influence, and one that’s acknowledged, is that of author/playwright Samuel Beckett. Tilbury, in particular, has previously created text-based performances inspired by late Beckett, works such as Worsward Ho and Stirrings Still. In a brief booklet containing notes written by Tilbury, Rowe and Bjørgeengen, an unattributed quote says: “I am looking for music that extends the Beckett way of being on the edge”.

For his part, the director says he wanted: “somewhat like the dramatic effect when a Noh actor, after slowing down our perception of time, makes a…small movement (that)is perceived as a dramatic event.” And in that, the music that Rowe and Tilbury delivered is entirely successful.

The first two CDs contain the set’s least sonically eventful durations (as Rowe puts it: “finding ways to not play and create form”). The duo’s quietude over long periods is so profound that their infrequently emphatic soundings, when they do come, are occasionally jarring, seeming inapposite, and not entirely welcome. But the third disc achieves an entirely satisfying balance of stasis and sonic richness, and it’s as good in its way as Tilbury and Rowe’s excellent 2003 Erstwhile disc Duos for Doris. It would be the first-choice candidate for stand-alone release or download. The first pronounced overlap of inputs comes right at the end of this third disc, in a passage of softly malleted percussion sounds and thin harmonium-like drones.

The fourth CD, at just over 30 minutes long, is much shorter than the first three, and sounds like a different performance altogether. The booklet, which describes it as “contrasting material”, suggests as much, and lists timing indexes and attributions for its various parts, such as: “(00:06:50) Kuchen, song 2013”, and “(00:24:30) elements of Treatise, Cardew 1968”.

This fourth disc begins with comparatively rude electronics and emphatic pianism, some startlingly abrupt noises, and a wholly unexpected injection of presumably sampled Arabesque music. Its silences, which are profound while they last, invite Rowe’s most abstract/aggressive soundings and Tilbury’s most forcible gestures, all offset by subsequent delicacies of touch. It contains as much event as a concert performance might.

This is a work of acute sensitivity, which demands and will reward attentive listening. The fourth disc extends the variety and appeal of the package overall, but the third is essential, and seems to me exceptional.

“Enough still not to know. Not to know what they say. … No saying what it all is they somehow say.” (Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho)

Personnel
Keith Rowe piano; John Tilbury guitar, electronics.

Related Posts
Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith and John Tilbury – Bishopsgate Concert.
John Butcher, Thomas Lehn, John Tilbury – Exta.
Mural – Tempo.

Buy enough still not to know direct from SOFA.

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