Line

Men are basically helpless when it comes to putting pen to paper to convey their deepest feelings, and when trying to do so the consequences are preposterously light – and trite. Fortunately, sounds exist as a vibrational account of what moves inside our corporeal unit and – especially – our memory, that hard disk that decides whether grief or glee underscores each moment of our existence. Janek Schaefer ranks high among the “memory specialists” who in recent years have endeavoured to set into music our quest for framing reminiscences (I’m also thinking of William Basinski and Philip Jeck), with a body of work showing consistency and skill. After the arrival of his daughter Scarlett in 2005, Schaefer, weighing that event against the circumstances of his mother’s birth in Warsaw in 1942 smack dab in the middle of World War II, was struck by the awareness of “how lucky we all are”, and devised an installation to celebrate “hope and new beginnings, for child survivors in all situations around the world.” The musical component of the work was based on a phrase extracted from the popular Polish song “Tango Lyczakowskie”, which was broadcast by the BBC World Service on the day Schaefer’s mother was born (it was one of the many songs used in the “Jodoform” system of secret musical messages during the war). With the help of arranger Michael Jennings, Schaefer wrote a ten-minute piece that was recorded by, respectively, violin, cello and piano onto dubplates which were played in the installation by modified “retro” decks that stopped and started according to the movement of the spectators in the space, producing unexpected glissandos. In the first three tracks on the album these instruments are heard individually, playing extremely simple and painfully slow airs – one also detects the mechanisms of the machines at work and the dirt on the vinyl – not particularly poignant though definitely not cheery. Everything clicks in the long fourth part, when the elements are brought together; I swear that the sorrow is almost tangible in a piece that’s easily on a par with the Gavin Bryars’s most painfully introspective works. It’s a stunning track, worth the price of the whole disc, which is appropriately enough brought to a conclusion by the original version of “Tango Lyczakowskie”, more or less garbled amidst the characteristic noise of a 1940s radio.

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