Radu Malfatti / Cristián Alvear: shizuka ni furu ame


b-boim records CD

It’s there and then it’s not there. When it vanishes, it leaves only a slight after echo, not even a trace really, a trace of a trace, something that only the keenest seekers could make out. The faintest of paths to guide the dedicated and leave the rest to founder in the wilderness. But when it’s there, it is totally and utterly present, if only for a second, encompassing everything about itself in this terse signal, the metallic chime arriving in an instant and bringing with it the totality of everything that has gone before and end everything that will come after in this perfect moment. Perfect, that is, until the next perfect moment.

shizuka ni furu ame is a composition by Radu Malfatti, created especially for the Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear. Over 54 minutes, Malfatti punctuates long periods of silence with simple plucked guitar notes, creating something of singular, sparse beauty. “shizuka ni furu ame in Japanese means something like a quiet, sparse falling rain. A lot of space in between the drops. Time to listen,” explains Alvear. “All sounds are played not too quiet but careful. Let the chords ring till the shadow of the sound starts to evade your mind”.

And this is certainly true, at least for the first several listens. The sounds are soft, almost muffled, like the strange quietness after a snowfall. Alvear’s plucked strings ring out gently, like temple bells. Occasionally, those plucks are accompanied by a quieter follow-up note, as if Alvear has caught another string with his sleeve accidentally. Or perhaps it’s the ghost of a note, caught between the two states of playing and not playing.

Yet subsequent listens bring a change in mood. The differences between sound and silence become magnified, and as my ears focus in on what’s happening over the 50 or so minutes of the piece, these notes really do start to sound … monolithic, almost, or perhaps sculptural is a better word. Huge trees wrought from steel, veering up from the bare landscape. Or icebergs, their ominous depths concealed by the cold ocean surrounding it. The intervals between those plucks vary each time, which imbues them with an almost unbearable, jittery tension, relieved only partially by clang of the struck strings.

And of course, there’s the environmental sound that rushes in to fill those spaces when listening without headphones. At the moment, I can hear the winter blusters ruffling the trees in the garden, the construction teams arguing next door and the distant whine of the washing machine as it comes to the end of another cycle. I quite like this sonic contamination – it’s offers a very different listening experience to that of a headphone session, in which the contrast between presence and absence is clearly demarcated.

Even without headphones Alvear and Malfatti’s soundworld is compelling. Instead of merging with the rumbles and chaos of everyday domestic life, shizuka ni furu ame exhibits a restrained insistence, a singular ‘of-itself-ness’ that prompts the ear to seek it out among the background jumble without even realising what it is doing. A ritual, an escape, a meditation.






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