Saturday, April 09, 2005
Three Men, Mapless

This is the Huia:


#12, the Huia


The Huia is no more; bereft of life, they rest in peace. Off the twig, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible.

Similarly, this is the Winter:


#13, the Winter


Sadly, the Winter, too, has ceased to be. But where the Huia left nothing behind but a few stuffed carcasses and some fancy hats, the Winter left us some recorded documentation of their existence. Interestingly, one references the other.

The Winter's final album, Swansong (for the Huia) centers on extinction, both their own and that of their honoree. The music is challenging -- apart from a brief spoken word track detailing the Huia's demise at the hands of Victorian-era high fashion, there are no words here, there's no standard song structure, and no markers to tell you where you're being taken. This can, admittedly, be tricky territory for neophytes like me; after a lifetime of listening to music that tells you exactly how to feel at any given moment, being left adrift with only your own immediate responses -- and no hint as to whether they are "correct" or not -- can be unsettling. The interest of listening comes not so much from accessibility or even straightforward aesthetics (depending on your personal taste, of course), but from listening to three musicians circle and signal each other, collectively building a strange kind of single entity out of their disparate influences. When they find each other, different things can happen -- sometimes a brief groove emerges, giving the listener a place to pause and find their bearings, but sometimes not. The not knowing is part of it, I think -- this music is more about process than product.

These pieces range from bewilderingly chaotic to quietly delicate, sometimes both on the same track. At times it's incomprehensible; at others it gets its ideas across eloquently. It asks for some effort from the listener, even a little patience, but after a while it does begin to grow on you; other music begins to sound too routine, too predictable. To say that you "like" it -- in the way that you might "like" whatever catchy hook is currently on heavy rotation on the radio -- isn't quite the right word; rather, you become involved with it, you develop a relationship to it, something more complex than you could form with easier music.

It's worth a few bucks for the adventurous and intrepid, and worth some time and energy for those willing to put their expectations aside for an hour in the hope of scouting a new country. If you're interested in hearing this album, I'm sure Dave would be very happy to hook you up by way of his website; you can get the Winter's other work while you're there.
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