Monday, September 19, 2016

Entertaining yourself in Port Townsend: Jherek Bischoff's Cistern

Cistern might not be so much for those who crave traditional classical music as much as for those who crave something to visualize or identify with -- much like a film score, or Margaret Leng Tan's toy piano. It is cinematic and may somehow please fans of post-rock; think Japancakes' Belmondo or even Explosions in the Sky (refer to Bischoff's "Headless" in particular). Above all else, it's the score to a movie that hasn't been created, and really, to a place.

Jherek Bischoff wouldn't be the first to draw inspiration from the Dan Harpole Cistern at Fort Worden. Long ago emptied, it extends any sound with a 45-second reverb, and requires visitors to enter through a tiny entrance, down a ladder, into the dark, dark room. Given the latter issue, it would be difficult to drag a full orchestra or even, say, a cello down there, so Bischoff composed a collection inspired by the impact of the cistern and gathered a group of musicians to perform and record it traditionally. What resulted is a collection of instrumentals in which every note slowly drags, quite beautifully, in self-awareness.

When Bischoff is live with whatever handful of musicians he manages to pull together, he's a ball of energy and a natural leader; he's an excitable storyteller, difficult to physically contain, at once like a very tall child who only recently gained the voice to say "look at me" and old enough to have built up the experience necessary to make composing and conducting fun. And still, none of this is apparent in Cistern because the album was designed around an echo and projects the emptiness of a large, dark space, which is of course quite a lonely sound.

That lonely sound is strongest on the album's title track, which Bischoff's orchestra saves for the second-to-last spot, and which is the real finish of the album. If Cistern were a movie full of wonder and opportunity, containing perhaps a tragic turn that ends in death, or the conclusion that "we were all wrong in the end" (I'm not sure what kind of script I've written here), closing track "The Sea's Son" is the piece that plays behind the end credits. If the climactic "Cistern" is the death that brings you to tears, "The Sea's Son" is the sun coming up the morning after. It's Will eating with his family after Eleven sacrifices herself to kill the mega venus flytrap whatsit. It's the asteroid breaking apart and missing Earth after Bruce Willis lets fucking Ben Affleck live. It's the dénouement after the story arc has completed. It's the sigh of relief after a really beautiful and dramatic collection.

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