Robert Haigh,"Human Remains"
With apologies to Laurie Speigel after whose album the label takes its name (and Sylvia Tarozzi), it must be said that solo piano is at the core of Unseen Worlds. Their standards are high, as evidenced by recent releases such as James Rushford's Music√° Collada/See The Welter and "Blue" Gene Tyranny‚Äôs Detours. Human Remains is Robert Haigh‚Äôs third (and best) release for the label. His composition and playing superbly balance immediacy and detachment. This balance places a subtle disguise or mystery over these compositions. I detect a similarity with the approach of Werner Herzog in many of whose films the audience is allowed to feel and react without heavy-handed close ups.
Robert Haigh is well known to brainwashed, of course, as a veteran of the UK underground since around 1980 via Nurse With Wound, Omni Trio, Silent Storm, Sema, and Truth Club. He is a natural fit for Unseen Worlds since, as he has said, piano is at the root of all his compositions. My view is that his solo piano works should have him up to his ears in film commissions, as they are jammed to the gills with poignant and unfussy (or anti-virtuosic pieces) and imbued with an essential immediacy and detachment. On earlier records, Haigh has borrowed titles from film, such as "Juliet of The Spirits‚Äù and ‚ÄúIpcress Girl,‚Äù so I am guessing that he would take on the right project. An excellent longer piece on Human Remains titled ‚ÄúSigns of Life‚Äù got me thinking about Werner Herzog‚Äîsince he made a film of that name. Herzog has argued, in one of his more believable utterances, that filmmaking is about creating immediate and profound connections with people. Robert Haigh certainly makes music according to that axiom and seems also to follow another choice of the master filmmaker. In the book A Guide For The Perplexed, Herzog mentions his decision to not move the camera in too closely to an actor‚Äôs face, since it will be ‚Äúmore fascinating to the audience if they see you as big as an ant in the landscape.‚Äù He adds ‚ÄúI have never wanted to see an actor weep. I want to make the audience cry instead.‚Äù
Haigh has identified his influences as including Chopin, Debussy, Satie, Budd, Feldman, Glass, Eno (both Brian and Roger), Evans, Cosma, Mompou, and Mertens, yet he usually manages to sound like himself by never overtly aping any style or approach. That said, the clarity and pace of "Contour Lines" could pass for a romantic Cosma piece from the soundtrack to the movie Diva (1981). There is no dud on Human Remains although there is a varied range. "Baroque Atom" adds rhythmic string slashes to the mix and showcases the "shifting pattern" aspect of Haigh‚Äôs composing. "Waltz on Treated Wire" may be a nod to John Cage and the concept of prepared piano (which goes back to 1938 with Cage, but also shows up even earlier with Henry Cowell* and Maurice Delange). His natural talent for organic improvisation is all over this recording, not least on the lovely final piece "Terminus Hill" the title and tone of which suggest a natural end point. Soundtrack work could be his next horizon. If I were a music supervisor for films, Robert Haigh‚Äôs name would be high on my list. God knows he would have vastly improved some of the things I‚Äôve watched in the past few years.
*Maybe I finally got the joke about the name of the group Henry Cow.