Poetry fans will recognize At The Still Point Of The Turning World from T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton. The first of his Four Quartets, the poem is about time and redemption. Eliot’s big idea was that getting our heads around the nature of time and the universe will draw us closer to God.
By focusing on ourselves, in the here and now, he believed we would find salvation. He argued that the universe has an order to it and that our inability to grasp this gets in the way of living a fulfilled life.
Religiosity aside, Eliot’s poem is a powerful study of consciousness and of how we think about time. This new work from Joana Gama and Luís Fernandes is similarly weighty.
A bit of background on the two artists first. Gama is a prolific pianist whose catalogue includes work for film, dance and theatre. She is a faculty member at the University of Minho’s music department in Portugal. Fernandes is a musician, sound artist and art curator. He has produced electronic music solo, and with a list of collaborators that includes Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Rhys Chatham and Toshimaru Nakamura.
At The Still Point Of The Turning World, for piano, electronics and ensemble, features Orquestra de Guimarães. Together, they’ve produced a quietly wondrous recording.
Like its namesake, the work explores time. The often linear nature of music adds dimension to the theme. Sure, you can hit the shuffle button and play the six pieces randomly. But for the most part, music is written to be played in order. Not unlike Eliot’s view of the universe.
It’s clear why Gama and Fernandes chose to add an ensemble to the mix. Orquestra de Guimarães adds huge scope. Compare Gama’s delicate piano solo on “Shaft of Sunlight” to Fernandes’ white-noise electronics on “The Pattern is Movement” and then to the ensemble’s expansive contribution to “Perpetual Possibility.”
There is more to this album than simply its range. The compositions and performances are world class. It is a remarkably ambitious project, pulled off exquisitely.