The etymology of the word “terrific” starts with “terror”. The more you are terrorized by something, the more terrific it is. And sometimes, possibly due to human nature’s inability to deal with the uncertain, the absence of things can terrorize us silly. If someone you deeply care for has fallen silent, you find yourself wishing that they would just start chewing you out already. The human race finds silence more uncomfortable than fighting. We don’t know what lurks in silence, so we address things to avoid the silence. We’re so good at it that we don’t know how to address silence itself.
That’s just one over analytical reason why quiet music probably doesn’t really sell. A less glib way to put it is that these frightening bouts of silence don’t qualify as music. Stretch silence to its breaking point and people may even lose their patience with it as pure art. In every classroom is a skeptic. And in every classroom where music history is taught, that’s skeptic’s hand shoots straight up into the air by the time the professor gets to talking about John Cage. And these people may have a point. If we can’t easily define what music is, we can surely define what it isn’t. To these people, John Cage sitting down at a piano for over four minutes and doing nothing is not music. Heitor Alvelos’s debut album for Touch is definitely good for giving everyone pause, even the Cage apologists.
Alvelos’s previous collaborations with artists on the Touch roster have been more visual in nature than musical. His ability to “see” the music of his peers has helped enhance the performances of fellow Touch artists Biosphere and Rafael Toral. For Faith, he goes it alone with nothing but field recordings stretching a period of 41 years to serve as his source material. In all of my years listening to music, I won’t say how many, never have I sensed such heavy atmosphere derived from such meager means. To put it more simply, I haven’t heard so much done with so little. It is, well, terrific.
Faith is stitched together from tracks that last from anywhere from 18 seconds to ten minutes. Opener “Errant” is 61 seconds of dead air. After a soft electronic “bong” signals the end of “Errant”, Faith then spends the following six minutes building upon a low hum. As the hum swells outwards, the negative space gives way to mid-range murmurs. The truly beautiful thing is that the sources of the tension for “Exodus”, “Edict”, and “Alluvion” can be just about anything. For all we know, Heitor Alvelos could have stuck his microphone inside of a regriferator and left it there overnight.
“Pseudoself” takes over the intensely low hum and somehow makes it more eerie. It’s as if you were transported onboard a 31st century spaceship with only the sounds of the engine keeping you company. “Pseudoself” and “The Way of Malamat” are the longest tracks on Faith, together taking up 45% of the album’s space. It’s safe to say that if Faith had a central nervous system, then “Pseudoself” is the eight minute journey there while “The Way of the Malamat” is a ten minute dance with the impulses. Faith‘s falling action leads to an unlisted track where Francisco Alvelos (a relative?) asks or states something in another language. A younger voice tries to “answer”, but the track cuts off after only 18 seconds.
To say that Faith doesn’t qualify as music could almost be taken as a compliment. Music doesn’t terrify you the way Faith does. I’m not saying that music cannot be terrifying on its own, because it can. Heitor Alvelos’s debut album can haunt you on a level that conventional music just cannot reach—unless we stretch the very definition of the word “music”. And if we do that, albums like Faith will be cornerstones for a whole new movement. And when expanding the very definition of “music”, who better to lead the charge than a photographer?
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