Subtitled Selected Pipe Organ Works 1983-2014, Robert Curgenven‘s LP finds him pushing the instrument (with the aid of a few others) in all kinds of intriguing directions. As Circle and Mamiffer ably demonstrated on their recent album for church organ, it’s quite amazing what sounds can be drawn from one in the right hands with a sense of adventure.Presented as four pieces over the LP’s two sides, Sirène works well as a complete album, especially considering the timespan of the recordings and that some of them are excerpted or remixed from extant pieces and/or releases yet to come. This is in large part thanks to the fact that while the pipe organs which provide the source for each piece were all recorded at various locations in Cornwall over the last few years, Curgenven has remixed and minimally reprocessed the sounds alongside bespoke microtonal dubplates and other devices — including a ventilator fan on “Cornubia.” It’s also not a conventional set of pipe organ recordings: instead, Curgenven delves deep into the low end and drone possibilities of the instrument to explore the slowness, the gravity and heft of the pipes as well as their harmonic properties over extended passages where time becomes a more flexible arrangement than is more usually perceived to be within this most immense of music-making machines.
Robert Curgenven’s cinema of the mind’s eye as projected through the sounds on Sirène is a powerful example of the magical effect that music can work upon the listener. As the four pieces drift and precess from earthquake tremors via mid-range tones which hover at the threshold of hypnotic enthralment to the reedy sprawls of horripilating trebles, the need to nudge the best response from the reproducing equipment is ever-present; once the sweet spot of balance and volume is attained, the album reveals itself in all its overwhelming glory. Playing loud is straightforward enough, of course, but giving Sirène the space to breathe is worth the extra effort, because it’s not a record to just pop on in the background while having a bit of a natter.Whatever the chosen listening environment, the album rewards full attention with an immense sense of gravity held in suspension — and not just because of the obvious associations of pipe organs with the towering gothic arches of churches. Curgenven uses each instrument to sculpt the foundations of vast structural edifices out of the shift and shunt of columns of air directed through each organ in real time and then embellishes subtly upon them through post-production, constructing virtual environments in the process which are frequently mind-boggling in their sheer presence.