Robert Gerard Pietrusko – Elegyia

Posted: 8 July 2021 in Albums
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Room40 – RM4143 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This cassette release’s liner notes are prefaced with an epigraph from Fredric Jameson, one of the preeminent writers on postmodern theory. It reads, ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.’

One of the most profound things about Jameson’s writing is that much of it seems more true and more relevant now, than when it was first published. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared in 1991, with the rather more succinct The Cultural Turn, which collected his writings on postmodernism form 1983-1998 distilling his critique of the era. The present feels like postmodernism on steroids, a relentless blizzard of media, technology and consumption progressing at a pace that evolution simply has no hope of keeping abreast of. The worst spins ever faster, but our bodies and brains aren’t equipped for the environment we’ve created. And it’s capitalism that drives much of the pace, perpetually reinventing, recreating, reselling to milk the market dry. And any suggestion that the pandemic would cause a rethink is already proving to have bene but wishful thinking. Capitalism has made off the situation, even when high-street retail and hospitality has been dying, and now the race is on to get everyone back to work, back to the office, and to supply those ever-growing demands.

This, then, is part of the context for Robert Gerard Pietrusko’s new album, and the press release provides a more granular and specific level of context, explaining how ‘On Elegyia, Robert Gerard Pietrusko reflects on notions of accumulation and decay, calling specifically on his memories of the demise of the Soviet Union. The sudden collapse of the USSR shocked the world and in that moment came an intense and wholesale reveal, that spoke to the impermanence of all political and social structures, no matter how fixed they might appear. Using this as a compositional metaphor, Pietrusko creates an edition of muted sonics, rich saturation and submerged low energies.’

The album and the compositions it contains are highly structured, ‘based on five piano motifs that are repeated with constant variation and extrapolation across the album’s nine tracks. In structure, harmony, and timbre each piece attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior, rigorous movement but no progression, and a threat of its own undoing’.

Indeed, the greatest threat to capitalism is always capitalism itself, and it’s the endless recycling and regurgitation of ideas that keeps it alive: each revival is a reimagining of the past that exploits the ache of nostalgia, which grows ever stronger the worse the present becomes.

And so it is that Elegyia mourns the passing of the past through its subtly-sequenced movements of droning ambience and slow-turning mellifluous aural abstractions. The nine-minute ‘Perishing Red Skies’ sets the tone and is formed from slow-turning waves and the most gradual of movements. The motifs are often buried beneath broad washes of sound, and twist and warp further out of shape as the album progresses – but they are, breaking through the waves, at times discernible, bobbing around in eddying flows. Sometimes, the feel is quite light-hearted – but then, at others, it feels vaguely threatening, while at others simply contemplative. How I miss those periods of quiet introspection, before work, family, and simply life took over.

Dark clouds build on the two-parts of ‘The Lost Seasons’, the second occupied by a stammering oscillation of slow disruption to a smooth, soft surface. It’s soothing, but is it real? Postmodernism is all about surface, about deception, about appearance, and so one must inevitably ask how much of Elegyia is art, and how much is artifice? take the sepiatone cover image. It’s an evocation of a bygone age – but it’s simply a shortcut, a signifier – rather than the signified.

And these are the questions to ponder as you cast away on the drift, and without expending too much energy on what lies beneath the surface.

Elegyia is a delicate and finely-balanced work, with expansive sweeps and fine detail coexisting, layering atop of one another, reforging its own reality in the moment.

AA

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