Tuesday, 6 August 2019
Michael Bonaventure - In Tenebris Ratione Organi
Album: In Tenebris Ratione Organi
Artist: Michael Bonaventure
Label: Eighth Tower Records
Catalogue no: N/A
1. In Tenebris Ratione Organi I
2. Galactic Weed
4. Giant Silver
5. In Tenebris Ratione Organi II
6. Distant Madrigal
7. Love Transformed
8. Giant Gold
9. Doom Animal
Normally, when settling down to write a review, I only cursorily skim through the press/artist blurb that always comes with the recording, as I like to listen and react to the music unfiltered so I am not influenced by outside ideas; as a result I don’t often quote from the accompanying spiel but I will make an exception in this case because a very good point is made: “The organ: in popular association, both the ‘God Instrument’ and the ‘Devil Instrument’, a purveyor of myriad densities and shades of massed tone, elemental fire and inexhaustible air, capable of inspiring wonder, awe, profound mystery and sinister darkness”. Up until this moment I’ve never really thought about the organ’s associations but yes, certainly in cinematic terms the organ is portrayed as being representative of forces both divine and satanic. A good case occurred to me: in Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962), a scene occurs when Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), who has been hired as a church organist, is seen practising the organ in her new church but the elevating hymnal music shifts to something less wholesome as time goes on. The minister, hearing it, decides that she’s no longer a suitable occupant of the position, and asks her to resign. Here we encounter both sides of the organ in a single instance.
The current offering under consideration, Michael Bonaventure’s In Tenebris Ratione Organi, is built around the complexities and manifold capabilities of the organ as the facilitator for an almost endless spectrum of possibilities. In many respects, and as pointed out in the blurb, it can be treated as a form of synthesiser, in that sounds and waveforms can be layered together to produce hybrid tones. And the end result of Bonaventure’s explorations fully underscores the pre-eminence of this majestic instrument as a means of expressing moods and atmospheres every bit as effortlessly as a digital synthesiser can.
And my word, the myriad ‘voices’ and textures presented here have opened my eyes to the spectacular breadth of tonal and abstract articulation that the instrument is capable of. In all honesty, my sole impression of the organ has been limited either to the sort of musical accompaniment to grand classical compositions or cheesy seaside entertainment of a certain period (so much for a broad appreciation of music!), but this goes beyond the boundaries of conventional interpretation and expression. This work places the grand organ in an entirely new context, an exemplary instance of a catalyst that helps to shift one’s perspective from the mundane to the fantastic.
I suppose in many ways Bonaventure uses the organ as any musician would employ a synthesiser, creating base sounds and then subjecting them to treatments and manipulations, in real time and post-production, to add nuances and colour to what is already a rich seam of material. Watching a cathedral organist manipulate the stops is exactly akin to how a synthesist would adjust and control the frequencies of the electronic instrument. In exactly the same manner he can add and subtract, alter and multiply the textural make up, creating a complex tapestry of sounds and vibrations to bedazzle the listener.
I have to say, with hand on heart, that this is a difficult album to describe in verbal terms and the most challenging review I’ve had to write (which is a good thing), but the pieces on here run the gamut of atmospheres and feelings from the elevating (‘Love Transformed’, ‘In Tenebris Ratione Organi II’) to the disturbing, sinister, and disjointed (‘In Tenebris Ratione Organi I’), via the fractured (‘Morphodelic’), abstract (‘Doom Animal’), and ambient (‘Giant Gold’), as well as the mysterious and the majestic (‘Distant Madrigal’). There’s everything you would expect from a full pipe organ, albeit some of the sounds have been pulled, elongated, cut-up, mashed, distorted, and put through further effects. Add on voices and a plethora of other artificial noises to create new flavours, textures, and colours, just like a chef would do to a dish, and what you get is an aural smorgasbord of delicious and adventurous sonic experiments that will enlighten and surprise.
For me, this has been a mini-revelation, in that the organ is an instrument I’ve not really paid much attention to in the past, and consequently Bonaventure’s pieces, by using an entirely fresh palette from which to conjure up new visions and vistas, have turned my perceptions upside-down. In a world where it seems that most people are content to tread well-worn trails it’s nice to meet someone whose ethos appears to be ‘what happens if I do this?’ – and that I find to be extremely refreshing and welcome.
The album, in a limited edition of 100 CD copies, is now available to pre-order here:
Psymon Marshall 2019