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Robert Haigh, "Written On Water"

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Nurse With Wound's contributing pianist (Sylvie and Babs, Spiral Insana, A Sucked Orange, and a number of compilation and odd tracks) gave up recording as Sema by the late 1980s and continued on through the '90s under different guises and aliases to suit quite a different style of music he pursued. This is the first release in nearly 20 years under his own name and finds a return to the quiet and introspective simplicity that fans of the quiet piano era will easily adore.



Written on Water consists of eight compositions which unsurprisingly center around piano. The package, in Crouton style, is stylish and atypical, completed with a care and aesthetic to design and presentation: the sleeve is letterpressed and delicately folded with a printed image framed and inserted on the cover. (It's also a hand-numbered edition of only 500.)  The variety of each piece suggest to me that these recordings have been collected over a number of years with different ideas and goals in mind.  There is something for a lot of different fans of styles however I'm hesitant to say this is a collection which will find the majority of people loving all of.  

It opens deceptively with a very Philip Glass school of minimalism composition, the abrasive and rhythmic "Over Land." What follows are tunes which are far more peaceful, introspective, and almost personal sounding. A captivating tune like "Interior Device" wouldn't sound out of place on the United Dairies LP Valentine Out of Season, an album which, after years, I'm still anxious to hear restored from the original master tapes and issued on CD for the first time. The gorgeous "Persistence of Memory" and "New Harmony" sound to me like the most logical evolutionary step from this style, as the arrangement is sparse and each embraces a number of pauses while introducing very few treated sounds to accompany the piano at the forefront.  The scale, tonality, and effects on "Persistence of Memory" are reminiscent of some of Harold Budd's works but it clearly is not a copycat piece, as repeated motifs suggest more that it is in touch with a mid 20th century piano style of Erik Satie. In between "Interior Device" and "Persistence of Memory" are two significantly more multitracked but completely different recordings.  The title tune is a serene, moody, and cinematic piece while "Ein Form" is a song with abstract loops and counterpoint: here the piano dances with synthetic wind and percussive melodic instrument sounds. Its theme returns with slight alterations as "Eight Form" later on the disc.

Closing the album is the beautiful "Orbits" and an intoxicating unlisted ninth track (only on the physical release), the first of which echoes back to the pastoral sound of songs like "Interior Device," while the last bit almost comes full circle to "Over Land" with its repetitiveness, however it is not nearly as abrasive as the album opener.

I hope this is album is only the beginning of a reintroduction of Robert Haigh, stripped clean of the mechanicalism of his '90s output. While bloggers and bit torrenters enthusiastically share the solo and Sema recordings, I have found the quality to be absolutely dreadful, so with any luck the originals can be located and re-emerge soon as well.


Last Updated on Sunday, 24 August 2008 12:58  


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