Perceval Press’ recent CD release, At All by Viggo Mortensen is intellectually challenging and may draw entirely different emotions from another listener. This release is a near solo work, with only one track containing work from Buckethead and Travis Dickerson, a combination we have become accustom to hearing from this indie publisher. This writer-artist would disagree with categorizing the works on this CD as experimental music, as that term would be a shallow take completely overlooking the deeper elements of At All. While recognizing, in the words of the great jazz artist Elliott Sharp, “no improvisation is ever truly free,” the works on At All are that of a Free Jazz Style. Or in classical terms, Impressionism. At risk of offending an artist who loathes to fit into a category – or to reference self – Mortensen uses suggestion and mood to create atmosphere in this impressionistic work.
A famous example of an impressionist composer who utilized the power of musical suggestion to create atmosphere was the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi in his symphonic poem The Pines Of Rome, also known as the Roman Trilogy – Fontaine di Roma (Fountains Of Rome 1915-1916; PIna di Roma (Pines Of Rome 1923-1924); Feste Romane (Roman Festivals 1928). The Pines Of Rome, specifically in the movement The Pines Of Villa borghese, uses a blaring forte trumpet to recreate the sound of children crying, and the harp, flutes and strings to create childish taunting sounds plus a chorus of instrumentation in question and answer format that creates sounds of a group of children making fun of one another. These were sounds Respighi heard while at this Villa. Much like Monet who painted outdoors, Respighi painted his musical brushstrokes outdoors and composed what he saw.
Both Mortensen and Respighi draw from a similar pallet where instrumentation personifies human emotion. The two artists rely heavily on musical symbolism. French composer Claude Debussy, who authored the groundbreaking works that started the musical genre of Impressionism, and Respighi have very feminine approaches to the style and chord structure. Mortensen tends towards a masculine and slightly more dissonant form of Impressionistic techniques. All create very deep emotional sensations. The opening legato note of At All’s track two is reminiscent of the opening legato note of Debussy’s Piano Works No. 1 track titled Nocturne – except Mortensen’s dissonant chord structure is masculine instead of Debussy’s soft feminine mood. This is aptly so since Mortensen’s track is titled Bomb This and has an eerie feeling of the aftermath of nuclear bomb explosion.
All of these artists use the Symphonic Poem to open the mind to subliminal emotion sometimes not readily accessible. The genre is a dream mood, Its harmonies may catch the listener off-guard because they do not fit into cookie cutter symphonic forms but do tend to draw on portions of those elements for structure. The feeling of being thrown off-guard also can come in a transition from one movement to the next, as in the transition from Mortensen’s Tokyo Doesn’t Love Us Anymore (track 8) to the title track At All (track 9). That one the reader will have to listen to for the full effect. Mortensen’s style might even feel like a fresh deck of cards just out of the box thrown into the air and scattered on the ground such as in Shoreditch Nocturne. His musical brushstrokes are purposefully visible and at times blurred by the piano’s pedal to create a psychedelic mood. His voice sounds as though he is in deep despair – vocal tears.
Mortensen’s cover photo also uses the power of suggestion. Some might find threads of the character Mother from the 1998 release and remake of Hitchcock’s masterful work Psycho, a film in which Mortensen played the role of Sam Loomis. Others might find the cover photo uses Monet’s use of light and it’s ever changing qualities. The inside photos also create moods of isolation and deep reflection on the past.
On The Web:
At All can be purchased from Perceval Press here: http://percevalpress.com/atall.html