Swimming in Light

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Artist/s: Mike Majkowski
Category: Improvisation
Label: Entr'acte. LPs will be available through: boomkat, meditations, art into life, soundohm, metamkine.
http://entracte.co.uk/projects/mike-majkowski-e209/
Reviewed by

“Mike Majkowski’s ‘Swimming in Light’ is an understated exploration of timbre and musical time, a minimalism that evolves gradually by the accumulation of subtle changes.”

I began listening to Swimming in Light just as I revisited some of my favourite pieces by Moreton Feldman. I have long held a fascination with the enormous patience of Feldman’s Piano and String quartet and the ritual stillness of Rothko’s Chapel. Though Mike Majkowski’s new solo LP sounds very different to these pieces, his music explores a tension between movement and stasis that I also hear in the slowly morphing motifs of Feldman’s late works. Textures transform by such minute increments that the music feels still, but my awareness of time’s passing is amplified by the sense of presence in each moment. In its glacial progression, Swimming in Light travels similar paths to some of the long-form improvisations of the Necks, Athenaeum for example, from Athenaeum, Homebush, Quay & Raab (2002).

Mike Majkowski

Mike Majkowski

The two long tracks that form Swimming in Light are composed of double bass, analogue synthesiser, bass guitar, vibraphone, piano, percussion and field recordings. The music unfolds so gradually that the smallest changes become significant. Side A – radio weather vending machine, is a study in minute changes; the form evolves around two slowly alternating drones, bowed tremolo on the double bass. An undercurrent of deep pulsations and shimmering percussion recedes into the background. The music seems static at first but upon closer listening, there are constant modulations in the detail. Majkowski is interested in the spectral qualities of the double bass, the way that the tone colour emerges from a complex composite of overtones. The drones periodically fade and shift to different registers, coloured by various overtones that hang suspended, fragile and wavering, sometimes barely perceptible.

mike-majkowski-photo-by-serge-kosolov

Parallels with Feldman’s music emerge once again in Structure and Posture.  Like much of Feldman’s string writing, the double bass is bowed without vibrato, creating a rich core surrounded by a transparent envelope of subtle overtones. Structure and Posture begins with a sequence of bowed intervals that repeats for the first nine minutes as new layers are added: a pulsating electronic hum, a periodic vibraphone pitch, a softly chattering field recording, an un-tuned note on a piano. Each development is contained by repetition so that there is both evolution and an absence of a goal that the music is directed towards. Listening to the cyclical figures in this piece, I think of a curved concept of musical time described by the English composer Bryn Harrison, a sense of circular motion through the temporal realm that is both constant and unmoving.

Swimming in Light has introduced many beautiful periods of calm into my last two weeks. It is best approached with a frame of mind that is relaxed, almost meditative, but which is also finely attuned to subtle variations. This is the kind of album that I like to listen to in a darkened room to hide any distractions. The more I concentrate, the more I am able to appreciate the nuance and the patience of this music.

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