New Years Eve is a time when most of us tend to reflect on the year that’s passed. Usually that involves a mixture of thoughts and reflections – of happy things, of sad things, of successes and frustrations, of achievements and mistakes.
For me, I have for years sought to characterise that in music – to find some piece of music that somehow captures my year.
Probably there is nothing that could do that as well as music can – music, which is so good at expressing the contradictions, the heights, the depths, the trivia; the big, conglomerate mix and match that goes to make up most of our years.
This is not a blog about me – it’s a blog about music, so I’m not going to spend time here describing my year; but I will spend some time describing the music that I picked this year to portray it.
Yoshi Wada is a Japanese sound artist who is now mostly settled in the US, and his mammoth work for computerised pipe organ, The Appointed Cloud, was performed on 8 November 1987 in the Great Hall of the New York Hall of Science and recorded on EM Records.
It’s a work that plays as a single arc, a work where everything emerges from the single, quiet drone that opens it. It moves from moments of dark mystery, where you are not quite sure if the rumblings and murmurings beneath you are going to comfort you or destroy you, to moments where the whole universe seems to be blasting a doomsday trumpet at you. There are moments where sounds swell and recede, where celebration gives way to terror and takes it back again; where you feel embraced and held one minute, and then claustrophobically lonely the next. Everything feels new and old at the same time, as if you have always been in this place and yet are still discovering it for the first time, this place where chaos and order, emptiness and bigness, are one.
The music itself revolves around the sounds of a pipe organ, but one that has been electrically charged and produces an amazing array of colours and shades and noise, bashing like percussion or whispering like a dying day, whatever Yoshi Wada and his music ask it to do. There are sirens that could have been put there by Edgard Varése, huge Messiaen-like discords, massive explosions of apocalyptic bagpipes, and gentle, pulsating chords that may have Philip Glass punching them out at the keyboard.
The Appointed Cloud gives you the sense that everything, however disparate and odd and confused it might seem, somehow ultimately fits together – not so much in some great, predetermined plan, but just simply because that’s how it has always been – the happiness, the sadness, the comfort, the terror: they’ve always blended and morphed into one another and they always will because, ultimately, that cloud is nothing greater or less than what goes on within us. The world around us can change, for the better or the worse, but it’s still the same old you and I experiencing it all.
It is perhaps this introspection writ large that makes this music so compelling. It has to be played loudly, and you have to listen to it alone. And when you do, maybe you too will feel that, within its massive but all-too-short hour, that not just your year, but your life, has flashed before you, leaving you with that strange mixed sense of defeat and victory that life is, after all, all about.