Steve Roden (w/ Jacob Danziger) – Dark Over Light Earth

Posted: 26 August 2022 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Room40 – 2nd September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a sign of the times that this is being released only as a download: labels – especially niche labels like Room 40 – know their audience and know their budget. The time has now passed when a connection with a label with ensure a physical release, and theres something sad about this. Still, better a virtual release with a label’s backing than no release and / or no label backing, and ROOM40 have some respect in their field.

Dark Over Light Earth is very much a release that highlights the intersection of different media, specifically visual art and music. As Steve Roden explains of the album’s origins, ‘dark over light earth was created for the final weekend of the exhibition moca’s mark rothko, which featured 8 rothko paintings from the museum of contemporary art los angeles’s permanent collection… i initially made a list of every color in each of the 8 paintings, to generate a score. i recorded myself playing the score on harmonium and glockenspiel – the notes and their order pre-determined by my color notations; and the tempo, duration, and overall feel, improvised. some of these recordings were then processed electronically with filters.’

It’s fair to say, then, that this is a quite specific, technical, and theory-based work, and it’s not immensely accessible either. Granted, it features violin and amorphous synth drone, both of which are fairly familiar aspects of contemporary experimental music, and there are moments which are genuinely magical, and musical, as they skip from here to there with a lightness and ease that’s magnificent.

But so much of the album – which consists of a single track with a running time of nearly thirty-five minutes – is discordant, difficult, atonal, and it’s hard to get a handle on. The individual elements are comparatively tuneful, but when placed together… Picked dissonance flits over dolorous droning synths and mournful strings – the violin so often sounds sad, but all the sadder when it scrapes sinuously, against the note, against the grain.

The sparser passages are minimal to the max; stuttering scrapes and picked notes forge tension against not drones, but tense scrapes and scratches while notes drape in fatigue across the rough and barren soundscapes.

Listening to Dark Over Light Earth prompts me to revisit not only Rothko’s catalogue, but his biography, which reminds me that he committed suicide at the age of 66. So much is made of the ‘27’ club, that the suicide rate among older people, particularly artists, tends to be overlooked. Hunter S. Thompson, age 67; Ernest Hemingway, age 61; Robin Williams, age 63; Tony Hancock, age 44: it’s all to easy to bracket the psychology of suicide as an affliction oof young males, but this masks the broader issue.

Just as there is nothing in Rothko’s work which indicated darker underlying issues, so Dark Over Light Earth isn’t anywhere near as dark as all that; it’s simply a work of quiet, but troubled, contemplation.

It is, unquestionably, a fitting soundtrack to accompany the viewing of Mark Rothko’s work abstract, overheated, yet austere, simple yet confrontational in their stark minimalism, and in that capacity, it’s magnificently realised.

AA

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