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CD Feature/ Graham Bowers: "Transgression"

img  Tobias

It is hard to imagine what Graham Bower’s music would sound like if he had received a classical musical education. Maybe he wouldn’t even have considered moving into composition at all and remained a painter, sculptor and experimental movie creator – all of which disciplines in which he has displayed a considerable talent as well as an immediately recognisable handwriting. For it is not the typical abstractions of some of his colleagues he is after but the direct linking of sound to real life events. On “Transgression” he has taken that idea even further than on its predecessor “Of Mary’s Blood”.

Which goes slightly against the usual logic of trilogies, in which the second part is usually the one in which the plot settles down after the slow unfolding of the opening and before the tedious unraveling of the various story lines toward the end – measured in terms of how most people rate music, this album is even more “out there” and “difficult” than his earlier work, which is saying quite a bit. But then again, an objective “snapshot” of where humanity stands today combined with a highly personal account of his raising in a Christian society and all of the accompanying oddities was never going to be a radio hit. As Bowers puts it “I am an atheist, but the product of Christianity, so for me a good starting point was the fertilisation of Mary, with the introduction of 23 chromosomes from God almighty to join the 23 chromosomes waiting in the egg within her earthly body.” Of course, that will not be where you start as a listener, nor do you even have to regard this as an intellectual exercise or – heaven forbid – programme music. Rather, “Transgression” is about change and how it is brought about and if you just hold tight to your seat, you will be able to whitness this very mutation as you simply follow this almost fifty minute long continous track as it gushes like an out-of-control rollercoaster log on a wild water canyon through the outskirts of the composer’s mind. Musically, Graham uses both electronic and acustic means, glueing them together in sometimes surreal and crass scenes. The opening section consists of a string crescendo, as if from an orchestra tuning up, with dissonant flutes obnoxiously whistling and trumpeting from the sides. As the harmonies and a rolling timpani prepare for an apocalyptic climax, a berserk electric guitar out of nowhere abruptly shreds all texture to pieces. The largest part of the middle then focusses on vocals. As incomparable as most of it may appear, Ligeti would have been proud and unable to withdraw his attention from this associative moaning, whailing, whining, pleading, baiting, humming and even singing or dissolving into deep, aspirated breaths, combined with the drunken babblings of a piano. As the music approaches the end, it turns more collage-like and layers various sounds in an oneiric musique concrete tightrope act. Throughout, Bowers prooves to be a master of transitions, ripping listeners from one mood and placing them in the next with striking ease. Most of all however, he presents himself like a highly artistic master of ceremonies, who consciously uses the contrasts between the ecstatic and frenzied moments and the fragile interludes to create powerful effects.

There is a burlesque element in all of this, which coincides with his notion of an “Audio Theatre”. Naturally, Bowers will be aware of the fact that the pictures stimulated in the listener’s brain will not be hardcopies of his own, so the aim is rather to make the underlying development the key to understanding “Transgression” and of guarding the album’s three central terms by enigmatic but universal clauses: Choice, necessity and coercion. All of this sounds as though the record presents a challenge and to be honest: It does. But with his musical language approaching total idiosyncracy, it is also a most rewarding and unforgettable one. Thank god for that lack of education.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Graham Bowers at MySpace
Homepage: Red Wharf Records

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