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Anaphoria: Footpaths and Traderoutes

img  Tobias Fischer

About a decade ago, Brian Timothy Harlan visited Kaig Grady at his wood-panelled, instrument-laden home. Originally intended as a conversation about the ongoing relevance of desperately underappreciated pioneer Henry Partch on the musical map of the 21st century, the friendly chat quickly turned into a mint-tea-fueled „interview to end all interviews“, in which Grady's past as a wondering student, his long and winding road towards microtonality  and self-built instruments as well as his vision of Anaphoria, a virtual (but not imaginary) state whose culture he propagated and promoted in his work, were discussed. With a view to his most recent release „Footpaths and Traderoutes“, Grady's perspective on „space“ as a creative goal, as laid out in that conversation, was probably most enlightning  – especially so, since his affiliation with Anaphoria  could easily be regarded as a cheap marketing ploy. In reality, it has served as a strikingly precise image of his approach as well as an ideal to which all of his compositions aspire. The rediscovery of Gamelan as a form of expression containing „all gradations, even some that we no longer know how to name“, as Debussy once famously put it, is only an outward manifestation of a far deeper truth here. Conventional logic is, in effect, reversed, placing the listener inside the music, rather than implanting the music into the listener. Sound, to Grady, had the unique propensity of making structures visible which had been silently in existence since the beginning of time, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, but perceptible to the attentive ear. And once you had actually witnessed this virtual geography for yourself, every other musical experience paled in comparison.

Interestingly for a man so immersed in this vision, Grady's oeuvre has never overtly been part of a recognisable movement. Ever since programmatic music called for the translation of narrative and visual elements into notes, the call has been on composers to try and find techniques to make these structures more clearly apparent. Over time, two distinct and somewhat contrapuntal approaches emerged: On the one hand, the creation of densely layered textures, in which the simultaneity of quiet and loud events mimics the sensation sound-sources at different distances from the observer. On the other, the attempt of juxtaposing a handful of solitary acoustic events with almost complete silence, thereby integrating music into the space surrounding the listener. Grady occupies none of these poles, nor is it sandwiched in between. Rather, his coordinates appears to be located outside of them, extending an essentially twodimensional timeline into a threedimensional continuum.

Just how much closer than most of his colleagues Grady has come to placing the listener inside this cube of infinite potentials becomes clear on „Footpaths and Trade Routes“. Outwardly, the album fits in seamlessly with his back catalogue and seems a perfectly straight-forward work on paper: Timbrally hinting at Bells and Glockenspiel, performance-wise referencing pure Gamelan- and Mallet-pieces and employing “the just intonation resources of Wilson's combination-product sets and meta-slendro“, these three pieces could at first be mistaken for solo-musings by a Vibraphonist in a reflective mood. And yet, the moment one pulls the LP from its mysterious sleeve and drops the needle, the psychoactive characteristics of the music are immediately becoming apparent. Grady's music is airy and open, weightless and unreal, using microtonal shadings and psychological colours to create a fluent lightplay akin to beams of broken sunrays gently piercing a blossoming spring-forest. Melody, tonality and rhythm are important, but they are means to an end rather than an actual goal in themselves, drawing the listener in like silent sirens and recalibrating his senses to open them up for the world hiding underneath the surface. Even without closing one's eyes, they are changing the properties of the room, enriching and distorting them and making one feel as though everything had been bathed in an intriguing new light.

At the same time, Grady awards a compositional urge to his pieces that is unequalled in a musical area usually defined by a lack of direction and an overdose of „mood“. Here, in contrast, each of the three tracks included on „Footpaths and Trade Routes“ is marked by a striking creative idea. „Zephyros“ is bound together by an upbeat Leitmotif, which returns at strategic moments throughout its duration, then dives into a series of call-and-response games as part of which thematic inventions are presented and then discreetly varied. An extract from long-form work, „Hierophone A341“ is built on a two-tier architecture: On the one hand, it is made up of a complex rhythmical pulse complemented by seemingly irregular polyrhythmical adornments and long, sustained tones. On the other, there is a clear order to these motives, with each layer following recognisable patterns while at the same time magically avoiding simple repetition at all cost. Twenty-minute long „Ostaelo“, which takes up the entire B-side of the Vinyl and represents a studio re-examination, re-interpretation and re-contextualisation of various small-group performances, meanwhile, creates a humongous clockwork of gigantic loops comprising stray notes, slow-motion impulse-drones and melodic fragments, all underpinned by an ominous, subliminal bass field. Manifesting itself with shocking subtlety, the virtual geography Grady obliquely mused about in his interview with Harlan is turning into an overwhelming reality here.

Astoundingly, there does not seem to be a single method or imitable process at work here. Within this equally ethereal and mythical machinery, forms and formations are born and exposed, before disintegrating into their formants and percussive properties again - but their lifecycles are never quite the same. Moving according to a logic of their own and at a volume just inside the borders of listenability, these pieces always appear to be much longer than they actually are, fooling the rationally-conditioned mind and quietly knocking at the doors of infinity. In a word, this is space-time music in perfection. It should only seem fitting that one initially accepts a seemingly meditative ostinato-sequence in „Ostaelo“ as a particularly hypnotic passage - before realising it is, in fact, a locked groove.

Even after years of studying at various colleges, Grady still considers himself self-taught and perhaps the answer to the mysteries his music poses lies less in metaphysical studies than in talking to the man behind these otherwordly sounds in person. The way it looks, someone is going to have to take the trip to Grady's home again.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Craig Grady / Anaphoria
Homepage: ini.itu Records

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