Janek Schaefer: In the Last Hour

Commissioned as a site-specific work for 2005's Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Schaefer recorded In the Last Hour in the local Town Hall with the audience lying down in the dark with the speakers projecting the sound onto them from above. The four-part work—Schaefer himself deems it his favourite solo album—makes for a spectacular headphones experience with virtually every detail audible, from the wheezing chords of the opening piece's Magnus Chord organ to the fluttering strings scuttling into view during track two (the blurry flapping at its start is apparently his daughter's heartbeat). The hour-long piece exemplifies a subtle but constant metamorphosis as it merges delicately poised fields of sound—piano melodies, electronics, organ tones, vinyl passages—into a glacially evolving whole. Schaefer enriches the long-established turntable dimension of his approach with live instruments (grand piano, town hall organ, clarinet, music box) and site recordings, though the shortest piece, “Between The Two,” limits itself to a beautifully sculpted stream of shimmering vinyl atmospheres. There are bold musical gestures (the baritone saxes voicing Glass-like ostinati at the opening of “Half Submerged By Each”) and equally arresting soundscaping passages (the simmer and crackle of elegiac string passages in “The Ruined City”). By turns drone-like, ambient, collage-oriented, and ‘classical' (more by sonic association) in character, In the Last Hour is ultimately stylistically indeterminate yet all the more appealing for being so. There doesn't appear to be a specific theme (though the title and the occasionally funereal ambiance might suggest otherwise) but, in Schaefer's hands, the stately unfurling of sounds remains compelling enough all by itself.

December 2006