Computer Music Journal
Summer 2008, Vol. 32, No. 2, Pages 86-88
Reviewed by James Harley
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
The Desert Fathers is a duo comprising Jeff Kaiser and Gregory Taylor. Mr. Kaiser combines his computer with quartertone trumpet, adding a more direct element to the music- making. This release comes from a direct-to-disc session recorded at the 2007 Boise Experimental Music Festival. The music is divided into two segments: Visions (Saint Anthony) and The White Monastery (Saint Shenouda). The tracks are more clearly shaped, and do not run one into the other. Each is a substantial duration, in the range of half an hour, so represents a wide- ranging musical adventure. One presumes the music is primarily improvised. In comparison to Voiceband Jilt, this release is far less ambient. Interventions are more dramatic, new material is introduced not always as one layer of an ongoing texture but more often as a signifier of a new idea or section (even while there may be some continuities). The trumpet is subject to a variety of electronic manipulation, including delays, harmonization, pitch shifting, reverberation, and much else. There are times, listening to the recording, when it isn't possible to really discern whether there is a trumpet being played at the moment or whether the sonorities are making use of processed samples of the trumpet. I find this to be an interesting continuum to explore, and it helps sustain interest over the course of the tracks.
The quartertone capability of the trumpet is not overly apparent, given the generally avant-garde style Mr. Kaiser is playing here, enhanced by all manner of signal processing. Still, there are occasional moments when one hears more sustained, melodic playing, and the microtones are apparent. Certainly, his abilities as a player are highly accomplished.
One might expect that a disc entitled Coptic Icons be contemplative in character. In fact, this music is not meditative, at least in a "new age" sense. There are no program notes provided with the CD to enlighten us as to the meaning of the title (or the name of the duo, for that matter). Nonetheless, it is common knowledge that the original desert fathers were monks who lived hermetic lives in the desert during the early years of the Christian era, praying in isolation. It might be easy to overlook how difficult their lives would have been, just to survive, let alone to maintain the discipline required of their spiritual calling. The writings that survive are sometimes surprisingly fierce in tone. I hear some of that fierceness in this music, although I wouldn't characterize it as being aggressive. There is great concentration here, keeping in mind that these would have been live performances, and even though we can only listen to this as documentation of that experience, it succeeds admirably.