Earlier this year, in March, my friend Philip Thompson and poet Rebecca Engstrom were commissioned by the Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha to write a piece. The piece, Dust: A Lenten Journey, is scored for string quartet, soprano, and multiple voices/electronics run through Ableton Live. The words were written by Engstrom over a period of 10 years, eventually linked together in 2010. Dust is an ongoing collaboration between Thompson and Engstrom, and the program notes threaten that Dust II and Dust III may be in the works.
If I had to give reference points, I'd say some Arvo Part filters in the mix, both for some of the structural ideas present in the music and the religious context. For similar reasons, Paul Giger comes to mind, too. Not saying this is an influence, but the marriage of poetry, composition, and sound reminds me of the fabulous collaborations between poet Susan Howe and David Grubbs (Gastr Del Sol). On those recordings, Howe's voice is manipulated, splintered, overlapped, and sometimes bare, while Grubbs creates multiple sound environments. Dust has elements of that approach. Breath sounds are layered. Multiple "narrators" form sentences, floating in and out of the mix.
The piece veers from the accustomed rise to elightenment by documenting the transition to a more local spirituality; the self. "This is a Lenten journey of humility, coming down from aspirations of spiritual enlightenment, down through the painful realization of our earthiness, to the vulnerability that is able to accept and embrace our physicality, and find rest in the discovery of the true and genuine self as good, vital, and God-given." As I approach what I suppose is atheism, I find these interpretations of the struggle of faith fascinating. (Aside: Of late, I've been fully subsumed by the Gnostic elements of Philip K. Dick's later novels. Some of the concepts are very exciting: a higher mimicry unseen by us, creation of the earth by a blind god while a true god lurked behind the scenes).
Phil was nice enough to post excerpts from the performances. Please take a listen below and keep an eye out for a Pittsburgh performance. (Full disclosure: I contributed one of the voices.) For more on Phil's music, please visit: Music of Philip Thompson