Norman fave Ian William Craig is back again with a reissue of his earliest, piano-based album: not in a straightforward way though. While the improvised melodies he plays have that pristine neo-classical Frahm-esque beauty to them, Craig has tweaked, looped and manipulated the source piano via tape, creating some totally different textures. Mmmmmm. Meaning Turns To Whispers is limited to 500 LP copies, on Aguirre.
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For those recently indoctrinated in Ian William Craig’s drone hymns, ‘Meaning Turns to Whispers’ may come as a surprise. His first record stands, alongside song-written and vocalised records such as ‘A Turn of Breath’ and ‘Cradle for the Wanting’, as something completely different: a largely instrumental, suffocatingly noisy but decidedly Frahmian piano record. Delve closer into Craig’s discography, and this shouldn’t be all that surprising: he’s released these kind of records alongside his records proper, be it ‘Theia for the Archive’, with its Hecker-scarred ballads, or ‘Zugzwang for Fostex’, a largely noise-decayed tape of miniatures. For the first entry into Craig’s canon, though, it’s interesting that he hid his most notable instrument: the voice.
Formed largely of improvisations for piano -- much of Craig’s recorded and live output at this time was entirely at the mercy of improvisation -- ‘Meaning’ is meandering but towards a tipping point. Craig has described the noisy, textural element of his music as a way of dealing with the sentimentality inherent to what he does, and that’s no more obvious than on this record. His piano playing can reflect the most sombre of neo-classical artists, from Dustin O’Hallaran to Lubomyr Melnyk, but it will eventually reach a point of no return, at which point he’ll coat it with feedback from his FM loops, seemingly washing any narrative or poignancy clean before he can start up again. The rare strands of vocals in this record are the most treated of all: they crackle and glitch before escaping into the ether, never to be pieced together into a proper form.
There’s beauty in ‘Meaning Turns to Whispers’, but perhaps my favourite thing about the record is hearing Craig come to terms with that beauty, and often even ruin it. For me, his music is about conflict, decay and memory abstraction, which is why calling it old-fashioned or ancient-sounding feels off: tape loops, botched opera and textural degradation are as modern as a forgotten snapchat message or a shit deleted tweet. “Wherever Two Circles Can Be Drawn” is a solo piano piece done lo-fi, improvised so that its most beautiful notes may be met with ominous rejoinders. “Open Passage” continues where it left off but envelops the composition in scarred, failing feedback, as if to refuse us the pre-established journey we’re expecting. This kind of improvisation is about vulnerability and the scope for human error, and once more, ‘Meaning’ is a record in which Craig posits these things from places we thought perfect: who'd have thought neo-classical could go so wrong, and sound better for it?
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- Meaning Turns To Whispers by Ian William Craig
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