Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, August 1st, 2014
Everything Here Is Possible is a voyage into the shimmering musical unknown. In a set of five piano duets by Alister Spence (Sydney) and Myra Melford (New York), the exploration of different musical ideas and the creation of soundworlds is grounded in the clear impression of an exchange and transformation of improvisatory energy. This energy is restless, relentless, inventive, and playful. The considerable forward momentum produced by the music is tempered by the ability of both players to quickly sidetrack, from nervous cascades of fast notes to passages of welling harmony and melodic delicacy. The two players sound as if they are excited to meet, frequently mimicking each other so as to produce a unified duo sound.
Recorded live in Eugene Gossens Hall in Sydney, the completely improvised nature of the recording is underscored in the liner notes, which state: “No effects, unedited and in sequence”. The presence of two pianos emphasises the differences in touch and harmonic approach not normally apparent when only one instrument is used. Often, a mass of interlocking melody is underpinned by a self-generating rhythmic swirl, like the music is flowing through rapids and over waterfalls. Harmony is not a main characteristic here, and this lack of chordal heavy weather seems to be a product of necessity, with both players appearing to exist in comfortable musical space, never treading on each others’ toes. Everything Here Is Possible is as much a document of a unique musical encounter as it is an album produced for listening at home. The long lengths of four out of the five tracks test listener concentration, not so much because of the difficultly of the sounds but because of the creative agility of both players.
A tension that drives all of the pieces forward is a movement between two modes of progression: passages where both players mesh their ideas together so that it is hard to hear two distinct voices, and sections where the players take roles, one exploring chordal figures while the other offers more melodically inclined material. Track two, A Bird Translates, seems inspired by the bird call piano music of Messiaen or David Lumsdaine, with high register twitterings slightly elongated by the sustain pedal. The transitions between ideas are seamless across the whole album. Ten minutes in features the first momentary scene of chordal violence, with both pianists creating a rocky terrain of clusters, but for the most part, Spence and Melford seem more interested in achieving a musical meeting via flurries of individual notes and arpeggiated figures, or via the creation of more abstract soundscapes. The extreme melodic dexterity, technical facility, and ability to play off other – common to jazz-related music – is at the fore here. There is only one brief moment, during the beginning of Circular Dispersion of Tones, when a slight blues inflection is heard.
Both Spence and Melford utilise extensive use of muting, strumming and other string preparations, extending the normal sonic range of the piano so as to recall the prepared piano experiments of John Cage and the extensive list of experimenters to follow in his wake. These techniques are prominent on The Houses of the Fishes, with the sound produced being somewhat like a zither. A heavy stasis is explored here, with the gradual introduction of low register notes, some of which are muted, creating a dark, ominous soundscape akin to a soundtrack for a horror film set in a hostile Australian landscape. At 5.25 minutes harmonics are extracted from the piano, rendering a surprisingly percussive range of sounds that does sound like it could have been produced in the studio (but which the liner notes of the album assure us is not the case). The sonic contrast between this track and the track before is huge, with swathes of space populated by uncanny scrapings and unexpected figures.
Subterranean tappings, like miners in the dark, introduce the final piece, the title track. Low rumbling notes that at times sound like a double bass bowing an open string underpin the trailing rhythms of the tappings. Dispersing its energy, this final piece is the most focused in its gradual unfolding, with the opening mood evolving to include a stark melody played by one of the pianists, while the other maintains the muted tapping. It is a calmly fitting end to an adventurous album.