Jherek Bischoff‘s new record Cistern is beautiful. I was already expecting this, knowing as I do that he is the master of melody and a conjurer of clever arrangements that can tug the heart and ensnare the senses. I loved his first record, Composed, and so I was ready to be beguiled by Cistern. It is a very different record, entirely instrumental and beautifully orchestrated: it has an intimacy; it is very personal.
Conceived around the notion of the possibilities of making music inside a two million gallon underground water tank in Fort Worden, Washington, early incarnations of the tracks featured on this record emerged during three days spent improvising inside the cistern. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, this space has been used before — by Pauline Oliveros on her 1989 Deep Listening album.) The resulting nine pop-song-length instrumental tracks were then recorded in a converted nineteenth century church studio in Hudson, New York.The gently expansive movement of the results is a delight. The arrangements are, as to be expected from Bischoff, utterly charming and disarming by turn. Familiar orchestration and lilting lullaby melodies catch you softly and twist you off away from where you thought they might go, folding into previously unexplored layers of intricacy. The strings haunt the melodies, but it is the appearance of wider and broader instrumental techniques that allow the ear to wander and dream.
The sense I get is of someone opening little doors in a picture, revealing glimpses of bright brilliance beyond. The limits of the doors are the shapes of the tunes, the melodies construct themselves in multiple dimensions inside the containers. This is like being inside the cistern, I realise; the vessel shapes the content, gives it limits. The tunes do not strain against these limits, they are held quite tenderly. The image is of eggs, or seeds; each containing potential, so much available energy, enough to make a complete new being. These are the things that emerge as I listen to Cistern. Each new being shining through the doorway, complete, contained, transcendent.A collection of films have been made to accompany the record and although I have (as yet) seen only the first ,”Automatism”, the strong narrative of Cistern‘s vignettes is well suited to the cinematic realm. A journey awaits.