from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 27 October 2011

officium novum

One of the big joys in my life is music. I reserve a special place in my heart and my CD shelves for some ECM CDs by The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek. I never play these as background music, but only when I need a serious charge of the numinous, preferably alone and supine by a fire, with no lights.

If you don't know him, Garbarek is an extraordinary saxophonist. I came across him in the late 80s or early 90s ('I took up the runes'; 'twelve moons' etc), and one of my 'peak experiences' was hearing him play in Exeter, along with the very talented percussionist Manu Katche. He improvises on ancient fragments of folk music and church music, in a folk-jazz way overlaid with classical melodies and sensitivities.

Whoever thought to bring him together with The Hilliard Ensemble, a British choral quartet, was supremely inspired.

The music they produce together, Garbarek's plaintive ethereal sax interweaving or swooping above and below the voices, can only be described as sacred; but although they often use motifs and pieces from eg Christian choral music their work is not 'religious' in the way in which we normally take it. In other words, the work transcends such things as labels of 'religious' or 'atheist'.

Their first album was Officium. Later they produced Mnemosyne.  (The Hilliard without Garbarek and with violinist Christoph Poppen instead, also produced the beautiful and moving Morimur, a version of Bach's pieces for his dead wife.)

One of the things that distinguishes ECMs productions of these musicians is the artwork. The sleeve notes are in themselves uplifting, using stunning b&w photographs and often tiny fragments of poetry, such as a Canto from Ezra Pound.

This morning, in the post (along with – double delight today – a gift from a friend of a new book of meditations on Iona – more on that anon) arrived Officium Novum, the collaboration's 2010 CD. I've not had time to listen to it, but I can tell you that this time some of the fragments are from Armenia and Byzantium, and some are based on poems from elsewhere, and one on a piece by that great contemporary composer Arvo Part, another big favourite of mine; that the sleeve notes are as beautiful as ever, with striking landscape photos by Mario Giacomelli; and in the notes is a little poem by George Seferis (tr. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, Princeton University Press):

A little farther

A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves

a little farther,
let us rise a little higher.

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