Tone 21 – Spire Live at Geneva Cathedral

St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, was the crucible of the Reformation in 1534…

The second release in the Spire series [cf Spire, organ works past, present & future, Touch # Tone 20, 2004] is more than a document of ‘Spire Live’, which took place as part of La Batie 2004, at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, on 5th September 2004. Curated by Eric Linder, from La Batie, and Mike Harding, the dynamism of the event, where the audience rotated between 3 separate venues within the Cathedral precinct, is reflected in the individual recordings: Philip Jeck goes heavy metal in the crypt: BJNilsen comes over all moody in the side chapel, and Fennesz soothes and seduces in the same place.

All this is set up by Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson on the main organ [4 manifolds, computer operated] which dominates the time and place. Davidson plays Gorécki’s extraordinary Kantata for organ, [full stops on max employed here] which segués into BJNilsen’s ultra-heavy live organ and electronics next door. This follows Charles Matthews’s excellent renditions of pieces by Jolivet and Alexandra which, as the text by Thierry Charollais says: “The event seemed provoking and iconoclastic in contrast to the severe and austere atmosphere of the cathedral. Though some of the musical pieces were audacious, the music focused mainly on spirituality. It generated a different perception of the organ pieces, thus modifying our perception of the cathedral and making the event truly exceptional.”

And to finish, Fennesz soothed us with sound. His set evoked the rolling centuries in all their pain and beauty, leaving us at once becalmed and energised, but never oppressed under the weight of time.

Track list:

CDOne 76:04
On the main organ in the cathedral: Charles Matthews plays tracks 1-4:
1. Marcus Davidson – Opposites Attract [10:05]
2. Marcus Davidson – Psalm for Organ 3 [1:24]
3. André Jolivet – Hymne à l’Universe [11:58]
4. Liana Alexandra – Consonances lll [6:52]
Marcus Davidson plays track 5:
5. Henryk Gorécki – Kantata for organ op. 26 [15:42]
In the side chapel: 6. BJNilsen – Live in La Petite Chapelle [29:59]

CDTwo 69:06
In the crypt: Philip Jeck – Live in the Crypt [44:14]
In the side chapel: Fennesz – Live in La Petite Chapelle [24:49]


Imagine : artists of the British label Touch as Hazard, Philip Jeck or Fennez, playing at St-Pierre Cathedral (…)

The theme of this concert, more or less 5 hours long, was the organ. Yes, indeed, the pipe organ so liked by JS Bach. But this live series has as a purpose to bring us to a musical journey based on the “Spire : organ works past present & future” album, recently released by Touch.

In the first part were the STRUCTURES, with works composed during the 20th century by important people like Messiaen, Jolivet, Gorecki…. and a world creation especially for the Batie festival composed by Marcus Davidson, and last but not least, a work of Liana Alexandru. This part was a real sound firework, unforgettable with the acoustics of a church.

The second part was played in the Chapelle, right in the same building. This was the FIRST PHASE OF DESTRUCTURATION, with BJ Nilson aka Hazard, playing with himself. He began to destructurate the organ sounds by a go-and-back from his laptop to the church organ (…). Complementarity between the ancient and the newest sounds, but both composed in such an old place.

The third part was the SECOND PHASE OF DESTRUCTURATION, in the archeological site of the St-Pierre Cathedral, where Philip Jeck gave us a kind of archeology of sounds, from organ, rock, kitsch or scratching. He was trying to go to the source of sound, and ironically with vynil discs if you compare them with the CD, mp3, or wma files… In short, a beautiful set of turntabilism which asks questions about time, time which is running, time of artistic creation….

The last part was maybe going to give us a answer : PHASE OF RESTRUCTURATION, with Christian Fennesz, who recreated organ sounds on his laptop (he is using the LLOOPP software), an musical ocean, an “organic” ocean, the one which gives birth to new intemporal sound shapes, which have a name :

[Thierry Charollais, Sept. 2004, Geneva]

Chuck Crow:

It’s been a while since we featured any of Mr Wozencroft’s work and he is still ploughing his unique furrow beautifully. There are some great details on this double CD of live recordings of organ music old and new, which included performances by Charles Matthews, Marcus Davidson, BJNilsen, Phillip Jeck and Christian Fennesz,. The two CDs and booklet come in a printed card folder, and one of those details is that the outside is uncoated, the inside is smooth and coated. Another is that the dot on the ‘i’ in Spire has been replaced with an asterisk. The front cover features not only the title but the track listing which is, like the rest of the type, all in the same face (Clarendon?). I like the way he sidesteps anything obviously related to a cathedral and the cover photo appears to be just a meadow and some trees hiding a house, until you notice a few gravestones peeking over the grass. On the back, some apparently unrelated winter woodlands, a beautiful shot. Open the folder to find 2 images on the flap. [The upper is of sheep grazing in a field that’s laced with scores of their tracks worn into the grass. Below it, a very low-light shot of an extremely crowded graveyard. Inside a pouch opposite we have the colour booklet, printed on a stiff uncoated stock, and two CDs in simple blank white slip sleeves. On the booklet cover, nine sheep on a sunny winter’s day, most alert and looking into the camera. I got the ‘sheep’ idea but it took a few seconds before ‘flock’ and its more positive connotations came to mind; I started looking a little closer, and thinking about the Christian church’s vernacular… Those sheep tracks in the field… The back of the booklet shows cars speeding towards an urban underpass. Taken from the concrete bridge, at the bottom of the frame is the bridge railing, densely packed with layers of scribbled graffiti, which gives an apparently grey and bleak image a rich and human dimension. The only decipherable words are two instances of the name Diana. ‘Diana’ and a tunnel… Inside, a written overview of the concert and its intellectual basis, handily also translated into French if you want to improve yours. Two more images, or rather one, mirrored: reflections in a river. The CDs feature more textural images, combining purple and green duotones respectively with the blank silver of the CD to full effect. Once again Wozencroft uses his straightforward photography to tantalise and invite engagement. The passive viewer will see some nice pictures. Others will find the rewards of a rare metaphorical richness, and more than a few questions. [Alex Crowfoot]

Dusted (USA):

Geneva’s St. Pierre Cathedral (St. Peter’s, usually, to English speakers) has been host to its share of monumental history. The church, built in 1160, was the site of John Calvin’s revolutionary teachings and a central location in the Reformation movement. On September 4, 2004, however, the cathedral played home to a different sort of event, one in which the church’s role in religious history was only a secondary attraction. In conjunction with Touch’s Spire: Organ Works Past, Present, and Future, a night of performances had been planned; rather than marvel at a chair once occupied by Calvin in thought, attention centered on the cathedral’s organ and the architecture of the building in relation to the music performed there. The night consisted of three distinct phases: the structural, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Through the three stages, the music of what Thierry Charollias calls “the king of instruments” was performed, examined, and redefined through the work of not only contemporary organ players and composers, but also a trio of artists whose relationship to the organ is more tangential. This two-disc set is a document of the night’s music, and while I’m rather certain it doesn’t compare to being in the cathedral that night, Spire: Live in Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre remains an engrossing treatise on the relevance of an instrument too often forgotten by modern secular music.

The album’s structural phase features modern organ compositions performed by Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson. Interestingly, Matthews chose to play two pieces by Davidson, as well as works by André Jolivet and Liana Alexandra. Davidson’s contribution is Henryk Gorécki’s 16-minute “Kantata fr Organ Op. 26.” The selections performed in this phase exhibited the organ’s austere beauty, as well as its potential in the realms of more modern composition. Alexandra’s “Conconances III” is a highlight that utilizes wonderfully some of the organ’s potential for bombastic, yet minimalist, beauty. Gorécki’s piece is another of the disc’s best, beginning with thick drones before detouring into much quieter low-end rumble. The clout of the piece is a perfect end to this phase of the event, a final reminder of the pure power of the instrument before the deconstruction began.

The night’s deconstruction took place in smaller venues, a small chapel adjacent to the cathedral, and the crypt area underneath. BJ Nilsen’s half-hour “Rues Basses” began the second movement of the performance, with the performer alternating between electronics in organ, creating a sprawling sea of thunderous sound. Deep organ ebbs and flows over a crackling stream, as the instrument’s distinctive voice slowly fades into the insistent buzz. Single tones ring out, buffered by silence, before Nilsen invokes the organ to end the piece in a short-lived revival. Later, in the crypt, turntablist Philip Jeck continued the deconstruction. He begins with layered samples of organ before introducing other instruments into the piece, most notably some heavy, jarring guitar riffs and a repetitive, mechanical loop that evokes thoughts of robotic movement. While Nilsen’s deconstruction was of a more subtle nature, Jeck appears determined to deform the original sound of the organ through conspicuous stylistic battery, an approach that not only upsets the homogeny Spire had heretofore attained, but also puts Jeck, and his manipulations in the spotlight, rather than the organ itself.

The whole of the album’s reconstruction phase is Christian Fennesz’s 25-minute offering, which was performed in the morning in the chapel. Fennesz slowly lowers a shimmering blanket of sound on the listener, combining organ tones and electronics into an ethereal chorus. As paths converge and diverge, layers of sound are uncovered, and though Fennesz works in a rather minimalist mode, his piece is perhaps the album’s richest, and a fittingly sublime conclusion to the album and concert. [Adam Strohm] (USA):

Double CD of exclusive tracks, especially notable for long live tracks by Fennesz (25 minutes) and Philip Jeck (45 minutes). Experimental live Cathedral organ works, documented to the highest level, including superb renditions of Jolivet [France], Gorécki [Poland], Alexandra [Romania] and Davidson [UK]. “St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, was the crucible of the Reformation in 1534…. The second release in the ‘Spire’ series [previous volume was: Spire – Organ Works Past Present & Future, from 2003] is more than a document of ‘Spire Live’, which took place as part of La Batie 2004, at St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva, on 5th September 2004. Curated by Eric Linder, from La Batie, and Mike Harding, the dynamism of the event, where the audience rotated between 3 separate venues within the cathedral precinct, is reflected in the individual recordings: Philip Jeck goes heavy metal in the crypt: BJNilsen comes over all moody in the side chapel, and Fennesz soothes and seduces in the same place. All this is set up by Charles Matthews and Marcus Davidson on the main organ [4 manifolds, computer operated] which dominates the time and place. Davidson play Gorecki’s extraordinary Kantata for organ, [full stops on max employed here] which segues into BJNilsen’s ultra-heavy live organ and electronics next door. This follows Charles Matthew’s excellent renditions of pieces by Jolivet and Alexandra which, as the text by Thierry Charollay says: ‘The event seemed provoking and iconoclastic in contrast to severe and austere atmosphere of the cathedral. Though some of the musical pieces, thus modifying our perception of the cathedral and making the event truly exceptional.’ And to finish, Fennesz soothed us with sound. His set evoked the rolling centuries in all their pain and beauty, leaving us at once be calmed and energised, but never oppressed under the weight of time.”

The Milk Factory (UK):

This double CD release on Touch Tone presents a concert recording that follows on from 2004’s Spire – Organ Works Past, Present And Future. That release saw the likes of Toshiya Tsunoda, Biosphere and Chris Watson explore the role and potential of the organ. Five of the six pieces on this follow-up are performances of contemporary compositions by Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Liana Alexandra. The sequence is completed by probably the most well known of the composers on this disc, Henryk Gorecki. The music is striking, magical even, in its power and bracing stridency. It is occasionally reminiscent of Philip Glass’s works for the instrument, perhaps most famously Koyaanisqatsi. For anyone who has experienced an organ recital in a cathedral, it is clear that no recording could beat experiencing the music in the moment and physical space of the performance.
However, the quality of this recording is impressive and at times it leaps out at the listener with a vigorous power. Interestingly, there is also a fair amount of ambient sounds: the reverberating clatter of footfalls, coughs and audience movement… Instead of proving to be irritatingly intrusive, these add a sense of life and clarity to the musical experience.
The final three pieces are performed by contemporary stars of the glitch/noise scenes; B.J. Nilsen, Philip Jeck and Fennesz, and are indicated as having taken place away from the nave in a side chapel and the crypt. Nilsen’s piece gradually builds into a buzzing miasma like a circular saw patiently slicing through the toughest of tree knots. As the sound mutates it becomes lost in a deep storm of white noise and becomes gravel falling down an endless scree slope. Halfway through the 30-minute piece, this cacophony dies away to reveal the sustained organ note that initiated proceedings. Five minutes later a new, keening note appears accompanied by an occasional clang like the hull of an ocean liner being hammered in dry-dock.

Philip Jeck’s 44-minute piece begins with warm, ululating tones pierced by what might just be (but probably isn’t) the whistling of a kettle on a stove. At the five-minute mark, the mesmerically building whirrs and tones build are repeatedly interrupted by the sample of a heavy metal riff that is played over and over again. Accompanied by a loop of a swelling organ chord, perhaps this is intended as comment upon the use of certain musics to impress the listener. Whatever, the effect is comic and strange, and as the layers of sound accumulate, the experience becomes increasingly claustrophobic and nightmare-like. At 16 minutes, the magisterial progression of the organ loop starts to stutter and fade, only to be supplanted by a sequence of descending chords which is recognisable from Jeck’s contribution to Live In Leuven, a trio recording with Jah Wobble and Jaki Liebezeit. It is soon subsumed by a clanking, peg-legged rhythm accompanied by organ that is both seething and constricted. Think Terminator 2 meets Nosferatu (in the crypt). Jeck’s piece feels cumulatively like both a sonic sculpture and a travelogue at whose heart is the roiling, screaming madness of the cathedral’s organ tones which are eventually tempered in the final few minutes by a sense of sympathetic absolution. Fennesz concludes proceedings with organ samples that are massaged at various rates to produce a warm river of sound, which is reminiscent of Steve Reich’s percussion instruments, only replaced with organ loops. The piece’s gentle fluidity is gorgeous to behold, its architecture perhaps mirroring that of the structure in which it was performed. Highly recommended. [Colin Buttermere]

Outsite (Web):

This amazing album of cathedral organ music takes us to the cathedral, the side chapel and, for a particularly stormy recital, the crypt of this historical cathedral that was the center of The Reformation. This is the second document of a special 2004 event and includes performances by Marcus Davidson, BJNilsen, Philip Jeck, and Fennesz. The artists certainly do not feel bound by any austerity or conformity such a venue may seem to impart. The music is powerful and free, restrained and reflective depending on the performer and the location on his two-CD recording. [Tom Schulte]

Aquarius (USA):

In 2004, Touch’s Mike Harding co-curated an concert at the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, inviting three of Touch’s most creative artists — Fennesz, BJ Nilsen, and Philip Jeck — to perform live pieces based on the pipe organ found within that church. This double cd documents the live performances from that series of concerts which also featured contributions from the far more academically minded composer/performers Marcus Davidson and Charles Matthews. Spire: Live is actually the second compilation released by Touch based on works that in some way, shape, or form relate the unmistakeable timbre of organs. While the first Spire compilation focused on a dynamic minimalism extended from the ideas of Charlemagne Palestine, LaMonte Young, and Tony Conrad, Spire: Live is much more a dichotomy between Touch’s abstractionists and the structuralist principles adopted by Davidson and Matthews. Nilsen smears a single monotone chord through a series of pitchshifting and timestretching filters offering a cybernetic mimesis of the organ’s intrinsic sound. Fennesz suspends millions of pixel points within a digital fog of sound, occasionally allowing the organ to speak but mostly returning to bleary washes found on his 2004 album Venice. Philip Jeck is far more caustic than he’s ever been before, with a locomotive clattering of his turntables growing darker and more volatile amidst a judicious sampling of AC/DC [no its not! – ed.]. Matthews and Davidson, however, both offer very straight renditions of classically derived organ compositions from Gorecki, Liana Alexandra, Andre Jolivet, and Davidson himself. Despite the similarity in source material, these pieces from Matthews and Davidson couldn’t be further from the staple of Touch musicians, focusing on a polyphony of dissonant clusters of notes and almost random dodecophonic passages.

VITAL (The Netherlands):

Last year Touch finally realized their first double CD with works dealing with the king of instruments: the church organ. The only organ to show the right love of God, perhaps, but for some others also the instrument that brings on a massive drone, that perhaps can take the listener to different levels – in anyway. Many of the works on the first Spire CD were treatments in some way of organ like sounds, not just church organs, but also for instance a hammond organ. For the second Spire CD, again a lengthy double one, the church organ plays the central role. And an organ in one place, being the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, where all these pieces were recorded. Three groups were performed here. The first group of five pieces are by contemporary composers, such as Andre Jolivet, Liana Alexandra, Marcus Davidson and, perhaps, best known Henryk Gorecki. Here the massive density of the organ collides strongely on the walls of the church, but at the same time can move the listener to a more contemplative moment. Best this works in the piece by Gorecki, who works with both contrasts very well. The second group of works, being two in fact, is were the organ meets itself or other instruments. It meets itself in the piece by BJ Nilsen, who is playing around with sounds from the organ (such as the mechanism that sucks air into it) and electronical treatments thereof, in quite a shimmering and moody piece. In Philip Jeck’s ‘The Crypt’, the organ meets the king of sound recording – that is what vinyl is to some – but the marriage is not always a fruitful one. The king of instruments is like a monarch, and doesn’t allow rock records in it’s kingdom. In the final piece the church organ is no longer touched, but forms the basic of perhaps Fennesz’s most ambient moment. His computer treatments are very subtle, the soundmaterial can still be recognized but is also unmistakenly in the digital domain. Despite the fact that there are three different groups of works on this double CD, it is a well-succeeded compilation and the best is kept to the end – the twenty-five minute shimmer by Fennesz. [FdW]

Other Music (USA):

A concert based on Touch’s multifarious organ themed compilation from last year, it’s fitting that Spire takes place in a cathedral. This 2-CD compilation collects live recordings made on September 5, 2004, at the Geneva Cathedral, Saint Pierre. Touch regulars Hazard, Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz, as well as contemporary composers Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Lianna Alexandra and Henryk Gorecki, all contribute to this varied collection of recordings.

While this live installment of Spire takes a similarly diverse approach to the theme, as in the original compilation, it’s the use of organ that ties all of these pieces together. Disc-1 begins with a series of more overtly traditional approaches to the organ. Marcus Davidson utilizes dense and somewhat menacing chordal patterns in the opening two compositions while Andre Jolivet alternates between a sporadic flurry of notes in his homage to the universe. Liana Alexandra contributes a repetitive dirge-like piece while Henry Gorecki explores the full range of the church organ before settling into a solemn exploration of bass frequencies. Aside from the Gorecki piece, most of these contributions are a bit too stifled by traditional structures; but it’s the way in which the organ fully resonates the cathedral’s acoustics that makes these recordings so seductive.

The final track on disc-1, by Hazard, begins what the booklet refers to as “Phase Two: The Deconstruction Phase.” Moving back and forth from organ to electronics, BJ Nilsen (aka Hazard) slowly layers overdriven sampled organ notes into dark physical masses of monolithic sound. Like the calm after a storm, the notes hover ominously along the horizon while the hum of electricity alternates in the foreground. Disc-2 continues “The Deconstruction Phase” with noir turntablist Philip Jeck coaxing the remnants of music from his vinyl detritus. Jeck gradually folds one organ note into another for the first few minutes only to bring in a rather jarring and discordant loop of rock music that awkwardly develops into a somewhat rhythmic theme. This is a much more plunderphonic approach than I would usually attribute to Jeck. While the piece does coalesce somewhat over the course of its 44-minutes, the listener gets lost in the heavy handedness of the source material rather than what Jeck chooses to do with it.

The final piece, by Christian Fennesz, begins “Phase Three: The Reconstruction Phase.” A fitting finale to the evening as well as compilation, Fennesz is rarely one to disappoint and he certainly doesn’t do so here. Contributing by far the most uplifting interpretation in the series, he combines electronics with sampled organ sounds in a serenely beautiful nod to the organ’s past and perhaps its future. While many of the other contributors chose to explore the full range of the organ, Fennesz’s strength here is in his restraint, focusing on long extended notes rather than the dense chords that permeate most of the other pieces here.

While I imagine hearing this in the actual cathedral would have been a much more sonically impressive experience, this live installment of Spire is an intriguing document of a historically minded event. Includes extensive liner notes and beautifully printed oversize sleeve. [KH]

Almost Cool (USA):

It is true that I was a bit rough on Spire: Organ Works Past Present & Future. It was one of those releases that struck me in a big way as style over substance and despite the pretty packaging and big names involved with the project, I felt that it was ultimately rather a letdown. Spire: Live In Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre is the sequel to that release, and in a move that is ultimately very pleasing to me, it goes largely in a different direction than the first compilation in the series.

For starters, a good portion of the work on this release is actual, straightforward organ music by composers such as Marcus Davidson and Henryk Gorecki. In one of the great strokes of musical luck in my life, I managed to get to hear an organ concert that was given in Köln’s Dom Kirche while there several years ago. It was easily one of the most moving musical performances that I’ve ever heard, and it gave me a much greater idea of the power of the instrument when played in such a massive structure. I think many people don’t realize the expressive power of a massive pipe organ, but it’s easy to become a believer after hearing one in such a setting. Along these same lines, all of the recordings on this newest Spire compilation (both straightforward organ pieces and electronicly-enhanced ones) were recorded live in the Geneva Cathedral and although it’s certainly no substitue for being there in person, the recordings breath with a life that only enhances their quality.

Once again, the release is spread out over the course of two discs (containing almost two and a half hours worth of music), but as mentioned above, this time the setup is different. The first forty minutes of the first disc is taken up with five different pieces for organ, and the variety of them gives one a good idea of the range of expression the instrument truly has. The opening “Opposites Attract” by Marcus Davidson moves as the title somewhat suggests, playing back and forth between loud, majestic moments and quieter, more playful ones (as if the two sides of the piece are courting one another). “Hymne à l’Universe” by André Jolivet also starts out with lower rumblings, but morphs into something more lyrical while Henryk Gorécki’s “Kantana For Organ Op. 26″ works in almost an opposite direction, opening with waves of fury before settling into a minimal, dark middle section and finally attacking with the same ferocity at the end.

After the first five tracks, the compilation completely changes gears, moving into the electronic reworkings of organ pieces, and it’s BJ Nilsen that fills up the rest of the first disc with a piece performed in the smaller chapel. At the start of the piece, one can hear the milling about of the audience, even a person coughing, and it actually lends itself to the development of the track as soon it moves into deep, dark registers and swallows up every outside sound source with it’s reverberated rumblings. Nilsen plays both electronics (mainly one-note samples organ sounds) and actual organ on the piece, and it works quite well. About one-third of the way through the track, the whole things sounds like it’s swallowing itself as a sharp-edge sears through the soft undulating folds of sound before again receding. The latter half of the track again calms and one can hear the stirring of audience members again while Nilsen plays droning notes on an organ and single cracks of noise break through the drone and reverberate into the distance. As a whole, it’s a smidge overlong, but it’s a great study in dynamics and one of the better pieces I’ve ever heard from Nilsen.

For longtime fans of the Touch label, it’s the second disc that will get them most excited, and it’s because there are epic new tracks from both Philip Jeck and Christian Fennesz. Jeck turns in a nearly forty-five minute piece recorded in an archeological site below the cathedral, and it’s as dark as one might suspect, swimming along through dark undercurrents of warbling loops as lonely shapes burst through and the whole thing progresses towards some dark conclusion. Before dissolving into a finale of rather gorgeous shimmering, the track even lets a few riffs of what sounds to be death metal creep through. Not to be outdone, Fennesz offers up the nearly twenty-five minute piece (also recorded in the small chapel) that drifts with a warm Eno-esque haze of micro-sounds that is only once punctured with the sharp edge of glitched-out noise. The closing 10 minutes of the piece are among some of the more beautiful work that I’ve heard him create.

All in all, Spire: Live In Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre is many steps beyond the first compilation in the series both in thought and actual output. The instrument itself is given a chance to shine on the opening tracks of the first disc, and while none of the pieces are among my favorites in terms of organ music, they set the groundwork well for the electronic pieces that follow, all of which seem to have more reverence towards the actual instrument than anything on the first compilation. Perhaps at least some of the power of the pieces can be attributed to the warm, soft reverb of the cathedral in which they were performed as well. Downright magical in places, this is one you’ll want.

Rating: 8 (Canada):

Judging from the 145 minutes spread across this two-disc live document, the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Geneva must have been a remarkable place to be on September 5, 2004. Extending last year’s premiere Spire outing into a live context, pieces by contemporary composers Marcus Davidson, Andre Jolivet, Lianna Alexandra, and Henryk Gorécki are performed alongside three ambitious works by Touch mainstays BJ Nilsen (aka Hazard), Philip Jeck, and Christian Fennesz. Consequently, the release includes more traditional approaches (performed in the main cathedral hall) and three radical reimaginings.
Charles Matthews plays the cathedral’s main organ on the opening four pieces. Loud, dramatic chords that suggest the immense grandeur and sonic resonance of the cathedral setting alternate with quieter passages in Marcus Davidson’s aptly titled “Opposites Attract.” In André Jolivet’s “Hymne à l’universe,” a celebration of the universe’s stars, planets, suns, and galaxies, bold flurries and menacing chords tangle, suggesting questions posed without answers, followed by dancing, Glass-like patterns in Liana Alexandra’s “Consonances lll.” Davidson himself plays Henryk Gorécki’s “Kantata for Organ” (op. 26) where crushing smears contrast with solemn episodes.
Moving back and forth between organ and electronics, BJ Nilsen’s half-hour “Live in la petite chapelle” initiates the event’s second, “deconstruction” phase. The familiar glistening tones of the organ are audible throughout, though sometimes smothered by a cavernous mass. As one might expect, the piece develops slowly: at the eight-minute mark, it’s a grinding, wave-like roar; in its closing third, a drone duet of wavering electrical hum and organ with the latter dominating in the piece’s final moments.
Philip Jeck’s performs his 45-minute “Live in the Crypt” in the archeological site underneath the cathedral, as if exhuming the history of recording through his vinyl material. He initially generates a loud, tactile mass of organ, crackles, and hiss and then adds jarring poundings of heavy metal. After that subsides, the organ swims within a morphing, rippling miasma of blurry themes; at one point, he even audaciously inserts religious recitations. Of all the pieces, Jeck’s is the most disturbing, a disorienting hallucination brought to harrowing life.

Fennesz’s transcendent, twenty-five minute “Live in la petite chapelle” presents the concert’s final, “reconstruction” phase. Diametric in spirit to Jeck’s epic, the closer’s merging of organ sounds with electronics soothes with towering fields of crystalline shimmer and spectral starbursts. Naturally the live setting imposes itself as a factor. During quieter moments, ambient sounds (shuffling, rustling, coughs) within the space are audible and, though typically such intrusions are unwelcome, here they lend a human dimension to what might otherwise sound excessively austere. Though the recording deliberately presents electronics as the organ’s ‘successor,’ electronics also breathe new life into it; astutely, liner notes clarify that “successor does not mean replacement.” Ultimately, it’s the majestic sound of the organ, so steeped in centuries of tradition, that one remembers above all else. [Ron Schepper]

Bad Alchemy (Germany):

Die Elektronik als moderne Form der Vox Dei zu sehen, mutet im ersten Moment etwas gewagt an. Aber das SPIRE-Projekt basiert auf diesem Gedanken, zuerst bei Organ Works Past Present & Future (Touch Tone 20) und nun mit Live in Geneva Cathedral Saint Pierre (Touch Tone 21). In diesem seit Calvin unter reformierter Flagge segelnden Himmelsschiff aus dem 12. Jhdt. fand am 5.9.2004 ein Konzertereignis statt, das erst die Orgel selbst und dann verschiedene Formen, ihren Klang zu dekonstruieren und mit neuem Leben zu erfüllen, zu Gehör brachte. Der Orgelklang entfaltete sich dabei im Hauptschiff, in dem Charles Matthews zuerst mit ‚Opposites Attract‘ & ‚Psalm for Organ 3‘ zwei Orgelstücke von Marcus Davidson spielte, gefolgt von André Jolivets prächtiger ‚Hymne à l‘Univers‘ und den weit minimalistischer angelegten ‚Consonances III‘ der Rumänin Liana Alexandra. Die konstruktive Phase gipfelte in der, nun von Davidson gespielten, martialischen und pathetischen ‚Kantata for organ Op.26‘ des Polen Henryk Gorécki, in der bereits mit den ersten Akkorden mit immer neuen Clustern ein erschütterndes Klangbeben gegen die gothischen Schallmauern anbrandete. Danach konnten nicht mal Schwerhörige behaupten, sie hätten vom Donnerwort aus der Chefetage nichts mitbekommen. Die eher subversive Strategie der Dekonstrukteure zeigte sich danach schon in der Wahl eines intimeren, auf Menschenmaß zugeschnittenen Raumes, der Petite Chapelle, auch Chapelle des Macchabées genannt. Dort webte BJNilsen mit seinen ‚Rues Basses‘ ein feines elektronisches Gespinst aus Orgelsamples, das die einschüchternde Monumentalität des Orgelsounds bis auf den bloßen Kern aus Drones und Nebengeräuschen abschabte, die den Raum öffneten, dass der Wind freie Bahn hatte und dann transformierten zu einem Maschienenraum, in dem pulsierend ein Dynamo Kraftwellen aussandte. Fetzen von Orgelresten im Hintergrund zeichneten eine dünne Verbindungslinie von der offenen zur Industrielandschaft. Philip Jeck stieg dann sogar in die unterirdische Krypta hinab, in Grab, Kellerloch und Underground, um quasi archäologisch und historisch in verschütteten Klangschichten zu graben. Vinylscherben sind das Leitfossil des knapp dreiviertelstündigen ‚The Crypt‘, aus dem Jeck eingegrabene Erinnerungen von profanen und Schatten und Reste von sakralen Klangspuren kratzte. Wabernde Orgeldrones werden durchstoßen von Rockriffs, gewellte Monotonie loopt sich durch Raum und Dunkelheit, die gerade Leiter nach ‚oben‘ krümmt sich zu einer knirschenden Tretmühle, zur stampfenden Maschine, während die Orgel permanent Opium streut: And when I die before I wake / I pray to Lord my soul to take. Ob sich Wozencrofts Fotos von Schafen und Grabsteinen von daher entschlüsseln lassen? Den dritten Schritt machte dann Fennesz wieder in der Petite Chapelle mit ‚Morning‘, indem er Orgelsounds und Elektronik zu einer sublimen Apotheose synthetisierte, zu einem dröhnminimalistischen, harmonisch schillernden Konstrukt von etwas, das mal ‚blaue Stunde‘ hieß. [Rigobert Dittmann]

All Music Guide (USA):

Organ Works Past, Present & Future”. The project featured the church organ (or various conceptions of the church organ) in all kinds of natural and processed settings. On September 5 of that year, a concert event was held at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva. The first part of the program consisted of a set of acoustic church organ pieces performed by (Charles Matthews) and (Marcus Davidson). The latter’s (Opposites Attract) opens the album with majestic chords. The piece is a bit pompous but also striking and resolutely modern. (André Jolivet’s) “Hymne à l¹Univers” tightrope-walks between chaos and order. (Henryk Gorécki’s) “Kantata for Organ”is an orgiastic organ fest, ferocious and brutal. All these works explore the grandiose aspect of the instrument, its power and its spirituality. Afterwards, (BJNilsen) (once known as (Hazard) performed a 30-minute set in the Small Chapel, shifting back and forth between organ and computer. The piece is ethereal, dreamy, slightly lacking in focus yet interesting in its deconstruction of the organ sound¹s defining elements. Disc 2 begins with a riveting 45-minute set by (Philip Jeck) who, playing in the crypt underneath the cathedral, combined all kinds of organ sources on vinyl, from liturgy to rock and beyond, to create a shocking piece of music. Significantly cruder than what can be heard on his previous ‘Touch’ release (the disappointing “7”), this marathon work takes us back to his”Vinyl Coda” days. (Fennesz) closed the event with a delicate 25-minute set back at the Small Chapel, opting for spirituality and elevation. On first listen, his shimmering tones represent the farthest step away from the organ, but the introspection they express evokes the peace and quiet of a deserted church. The packaging (wallet-style) is again beautiful and this album is overall better (more cohesive) than the previous “Spire” compilation. And the long sets by Nilsen, Jeck and Fennesz are enough to satisfy fans of either three. [François Couture]

Tribune (Switzerland):

Un laboratoire sonore à la cathédrale

Un double album habille l’orgue de Saint-Pierre de couleurs contemporaines.
« Spire ». C’était le 5 septembre 2004, dans le cadre du Festival de la Bâtie. La cathédrale Saint-Pierre se voyait transformée une soirée durant en laboratoire sonore. Avec en guise d’éprouvettes, les tuyaux du grand orgue. Et dans les habits du chercheur, plusieurs musiciens de la scène expérimentale électronique.

Quelques mois plus tard, l’événement se retrouve sur un double CD du label Touch. On y assiste à une dissection des possibilités de l’orgue. Maître d’oeuvre du projet et membre du duo d’électroambient Atoll, le Genevois Thierry Charollais explique: « Lors de ce concert, l’instrument électronique va d’abord casser le son d’orgue, avant de lui donner une nouvelle vie, basée sur une transcendance et une hauteur nouvelles. »

Dans la première partie, plus traditionnelle, les organistes Marcus Davidson et Charles Matthews jouent Davidson, Jolivet, Alexandra et Gorecki. Contraste total avec la suite. BJ Nilsen, Philip Jeck ou Fennesz déploient leurs savantes alchimies électroniques dans la chapelle des Macchabées ou dans le site archéologique sous la cathédrale. De cette joute entre les machines des hommes et l’instrument de Dieu naît une poésie du son très particulière, à la fois d’aujourd’hui et de toute éternité. [Luca Sabbatini]

Le Temps (Switzerland):

L’an passé, le festival La Bâtie, à Genève, s’était associé à l’excellent label anglais Touch pour une soirée centrée sur le roi des instruments, l’orgue. Le magnifique outil de la cathédrale Saint-Pierre fut ainsi de longues heures durant l’attention de deux séries de musiciens: des organistes classiques (Charles Matthews et Marcus Davidson) d’une part, des expérimentateurs électroniques de l’autre (BJ Nilsen, Philip Jeck, et Christian Fennesz). But de l’expérience: rappeler aux auditeurs la puissance et la richesse des textures de l’orgue, et les pousser au-delà de leurs limites naturelles par le biais du traitement informatique. Une problématique somme toute très naturelle, tant les registres de l’orgue rappellent, par leur fonction sinon par leur mécanisme, l’utilisation contemporaine des banques de sons. Ce fut une réussite, et la mise à disposition de cette expérience s’avère un excellent choix éditorial. De bonnes surprises parsèment le programme d’œuvres classiques, comme ces «Consonances III» au minimalisme distingué, de la compositrice roumaine Liana Alexandra. C’est toutefois au moment de laisser la voix aux électroniciens que s’annoncent les meilleurs moments: BJ Nilsen construit un assemblage de drones étouffants; Philip Jeck, iconoclaste comme à son habitude, met en scène un foutoir organisé de bourdons et de boucles volées sur des vinyles épars. C’est toutefois avec Christian Fennesz que l’expérience mène vers les sommets: le lyrisme coutumier de l’Autrichien fait merveille dans une pièce qui sublime l’œuvre de Jean-Sébastien Bach en une longue averse de cristal. [Philippe Simon]

Dagens Nyhater (Sweden):

GENÉVE. Brutala samplingar ger hopp i kyrkorum
Var röken svart eller vit efter den auditiva dekonstruktionen av Sankt
Peterskatedralen i Genève i september förra året? En organist och tre av Europas främsta electronica-artister hade gjort sprickor i muren och fått stenen att lätta. Nu har dokumentationen av denna dramatiska performance kommit på en dubbel-cd, “Spire” (Touch/, som omfattar nära tre timmars musik. Sankt Peters-katedralen är från 1100-talet och är mest känd som sätet för 1500-talsreformatorn Jean Calvins fanatiskt stränga religiösa och politiska visioner. Den har alltså ett och annat på sitt samvete. Den dekonstruerande konserten går också grundligt, närmast rituellt, till väga när den förflyttar sig från kyrkorum till kyrkorum. Efter Jolivets hänförande “Hymne à l#Universe” och en orgelkantat av Gorecki går klangen under jord med BJ Nilsens brutala samplingar. En separation och ett förfrämligande som följs av ett karnevaliskt tumult i Philip Jecks subversiva scratchkonster och som ändar med en omskakande återfödelse och försoning i Fennesz elektroniska orgeloceanism. Förmodligen var röken i Genève orange, överlevandets färg. För visst är det något stort i att det alltid finns hopp, till och med för katedraler. [Martin Nyström]

Das NetzMagazin (Switzerland):

Schwere Kost

Man muss ein Virtuose sein, um sie zu beherrschen. Ihre brachiale Klanggewalt, die jedem Christen durch Mark und Bein fährt, ihr riesiges Klangspektrum und ihre Masse machen die Kirchenorgel zur Königin aller Instrumente – und dafür kann man sie hassen oder lieben. Meine letzte Begegnung mit ihrer Majestät war keineswegs in der Kirche, sondern ein DJ Shadow Stück und das war eigentlich auch mit katholizistisch gefärbter Kindheit leicht verdaulich. Und nun also dies, ein zweistündiges Orgelkonzert, aufgenommen in einer Genfer Kathedrale aus dem 12. Jahrhundert. Schwere, sinistre Kost.

Gespielt werden Orgelkompositionen aus der Vergangenheit, der Gegenwart und der Zukunft. Auf der ersten CD werden Stücke von Jolivet, Gorécki und anderen klassischen bis modernen Komponisten gespielt und auf der zweiten verfremden Philipp Jeck und Fennesz die Orgelklänge mit elektronischen Mitteln. Was für die Glücklichen, die in Genf gebannt in den Kirchenbänken sassen, eindrücklich gewesen sein muss, ist trotzdem wohl nichts, das ich mir diesen Sommer anhören werde. Vielleicht dann mal im Winter. [Ralph Hofbauer]

Transcultures (Belgium):

Nouvelle série thématique du label Touch, Spire permet de (re)découvrir des écritures classiques contemporaines et électroniques pour orgue à l’occasion de concerts itinérants et de programmes variés. Cet enregistrement, deuxième volume de Spire après un premier opus studio très réussi, réalisé à la Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Genève, propose pour le premier volet CD sous-titré dans les notes du livret « phase de structuration », deux pièces délicates de Marcus Davidson, organiste et compositeur britannique raffiné, André Jolivet et son Hymne à l’univers, les Consonances III de la compositrice roumaine Liana Alexandra, subtilement tourmentées, une cantate apocalyptique Henryk Goréki et une création « électrorganistique » de BJ Nilsen, un des nouveaux protégés de l’élégante écurie éléctro-paysagiste Touch, qui métamorphose très lentement, pendant 30 minutes, la matière de l’orgue pour aboutir à un monochrome vibrant. Le second CD ou « phase de déstructuration » propose des traitements électro-ambient de Christian Fennesz et DJ-organiques avec Philip Jeck. Ce dernier nous entraîne dans ses boucles vyniliques enregistrées dans une crypte comme dans le halo d’un organiste sous héroïne élévatrice mais sur la longueur (42 minutes), il nous perd dans son labyrinthe sans fin tandis que Morning de Fennesz niché dans la petite chapelle, se lève doucement comme une bonne journée printanière jusqu’à rendre irréelle le temps devenu somptueusement aérien. Une ode inspirée à la diversité du « roi des instruments. [Philippe Franck]