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Burial Hex, "Fantasma di Perarolo"

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Invention happens when an artist uses the tools at hand to create something novel, whatever those tools may be. This thought is particularly relevant in considering how to use a 300 year old church organ for a new piece of music.  Whatever inspired its first listeners, whatever tastes they possessed, have long since expired.  On Fantasma di Perarolo, Burial Hex employs that sense of dusty, half forgotten ambiance as a catalyst, using the instrument’s antiquity as a concrete element in the recording.

Brave Mysteries

Burial Hex is the extended keyboard and noise meditations of Clay Ruby. Since beginning the project a few years ago, Ruby has maintained a furious release schedule. As is common, Ruby uses limited edition tapes and CDRs to develop material and play with ideas in an inexpensive, flexible, and low-profile manner.  What’s unique about Fantasma di Perarolo is Ruby’s supple use of atmosphere and dynamics. A lesser artist would be proud to see this widely released.

The tape consists of one long improvised piece performed at a church in Perarolo di Cadore, a tiny village high in the Italian Alps.  The church organ, built between 1765 and 1768, needed to be hand pumped by two men. The back story would be superfluous were it not for the uncanny atmosphere created by Ruby and his collaborators, adding electronic tones, environmental noises, and the occasional clanging bell. The accompaniment is sparse, as if it were emanations from the building itself.

Ruby uses the wide range of dynamic options built into the organ. Hand pumping will naturally produce a subtle wavering effect in an instrument’s tone, and Ruby uses this to bring diversity to the drones that he plays.  He does not, however, limit himself to simply holding down chords, but employs everything from simple minor key melodies to dense, atonal note clusters. Given the impromptu nature of the performance, lulls and sour spots inevitably occur. Fortunately, Ruby knows when to move on and when to let a particular theme or sound configuration sink in. Fantasma di Perarolo has an aged immensity to it, as if each surging chord from the organ were the encrusted layers of history falling from the walls of the church. The piece is Gothic, in the sense that it sounds medieval, like some plague-time field recording of the 14th century.

Ruby isn’t first artist to repurpose a church organ. Recent examples include Soriah and Nils Henrick Asheim. Let there be more of that. As musicians continue to explore sound based composition, the unique properties of antique and rare instruments should not be overlooked. Every church organ is different, built to suit the acoustics of its home and the tastes of the congregation. This approach meshes well with current trends of tone fetishism, cultural atavism, and environmentally determined composition. It is a difficult, at times grating album, but also one that often exudes a dark grandeur.

Last Updated on Monday, 12 July 2010 23:48  


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