To the uninitiated coming into Joe Frawley’s Satyrinae, the opening track, “Threshold,” would suggest a lovely album of quiet, reflective piano pieces, perhaps with some light embellishment. But, you see, you’re just standing on the…well, the threshold, and Frawley is waiting for you to step inside. As a purveyor of “dream projections [and] memory experiments,” it’s Frawley’s modus to offer up an establishing motif and then use that to craft deeper, perhaps weirder, and quite unforgettable pieces put together from parts and moments, some from that establishing material, and some from…well, anywhere, really. By the last minute of “Threshold,” which really does have some fantastic, jazz-tinged piano work, as sounds distort and the environment shifts and shimmers around us, we begin to understand that we are headed elsewhere. Satyrinae is filled with signature Frawley touches, from sounds that waver like a reflection in a water-coated mirror to carefully sliced vocal samples turned into instruments to narrative soundbites that ring with a voyeuristic intimacy. “Waterclock Secrets” pulls all these things together perfectly. Frawley takes repeating, wordless notes from vocalist Kay Pere and lays them out in Reich-like repetition in the middle of a waking-dream landscape. Michelle Cross’ voice, of which I have written glowingly in the past, brings soul and longing to the first half of “Hold Up the Light.” Later in the track we get that touch of memory-based voyeurism as a woman talks about “having that dream again.” As is often the case with Frawley’s work, we are tantalizingly given just a piece of it, then left to fill in details for ourselves. In the background, Cross’ voice gets sliced and layered as before, moving the piece from song to vignette. On “Whisperalia” we come back to the slightly unadorned piano. This particular instrument is another recurring element in Frawley’s work. However he records it, it comes away with this wonderful, slightly muted but still tinny sound, and it’s lovely. There is a frailty to it, a feel of age, and in its rich echo, a subtle sense of loneliness.
I have been quite taken with Joe Frawley’s work since I was first introduced to it, and Satyrinaecertainly further cements that appreciation. Experimental yet accessible, his work challenges us not on a listening level, as in how much of this experiment can you take? but on a listener level. How do we listen to music? What about it affects us, and why? How comfortable are we peering in on someone else’s personal narrative, even when we know it’s fictional? The repeat listens that Satyrinae is likely to get should help you find your way to these answers. Beautiful work from Joe Frawley, as always.
Proud to have my music set to images in this short experimental film. Camelia Mirescu is a Romanian-Italian visual artist who creates intimate film-poems of great beauty and magicality: http://youtu.be/5ZJcUe7DZIs
Two EPs in one, now available via iTunes
Notes on The Groundskeeper's Daughter
So my duo project has a new album, just released today. It's available here: http://dollscometolife.bandcamp.com . I'll say a few words about it: About a year ago I took a risk and decided to release an album with a singer/songwriter, Michelle Cross from Chicago. This was the first Dolls album, a lot of people really liked it. A risk because I feared many of my regulars would be alienated by the song element. That may have happened to some extent, but I had a lot of fun doing it and enjoyed the challenge of "producing" (that word used loosely) and illustrating the songs with sound collage. I felt a bit like a book illustrator, creating vignettes that commented or elaborated on the chapters. So right away we decided to do another one, while the iron was hot. MC put out the idea of an album about "secret gardens". What does that mean? I had no idea. Gardens don't really do anything for me, I thought, but upon further reflection, yeah, they do: Charles Dodgson and Alice, the labyrinth scene in the Shining, the whole Victorian thing, haunted gardens, ghosted gardens, the meadow scene in Venus in Furs, I could run with it... So, the big different thing about this album was that all the songs are newly recorded, whereas the first album was more about giving life to old demos. MC had a list of about 10 or 12 song sketches that somehow had "garden" in them. We narrowed them down to a handful, some of which didn't make it on the album. The rest of the vocalized material was created as the result of "assigned improvisation" I'll call it, where I would give MC some drones or loops or textures and ask her to just sing over them and see what happened. The original drone/loop would then be stripped away and I would create a new background. Some of her returns were quite impressive, and those are the ones we used. "Across the Moor", and "The Nightingale and The Rose" were born from this process, as were the various vocal snippets in the sound collages. I was very liberal in arranging the pieces, often swapping out MC's piano for my own, or ambitiously attempting dramatic juxtapostions, like in "Wake Up, Wake Up" . Towards the end I distilled the material down to about 30 minutes of song and sound collage which I continued to shape over about 6 to 8 months, occasionally asking MC for harmonies, etc., to add. The last piece of the puzzle was the title. We had 30 minutes of "something happening in a garden". Somehow I thought of a character who perhaps all these dreams and visions are happening to. The groundskeeper's daughter, to me, is the daughter of a caretaker of the grounds of a wealthy estate, probably in the early part of the 20th or late 19th century. She lives on the grounds. She is isolated from the world and knows only the gardens; they become her dream world, the playground of her imagination, and the songs and sounds are like a diary. They include literary fragments (Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eilot), recollections of dreams, and the recounting of events that may or may not have happened. -JF
Video from the first world exhibition on Jean François Niceron at Iuav University of Venice, April 22 through May 31, 2013: "Jean François Niceron: Perspective, catoptrics & artificial magic", curated by Prof. Agostino De Rosa. Featuring music commissioned for the exhibition by Joe Frawley.
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