Paul Giger
Ignis
ECM New Series (www.ecmrecords.com)

Swiss musician/composer Paul Giger is singularly known for his extramusical explorations of the violin's acoustic outer limits. While this sounds like difficult listening, he also chooses to perform in large spaces. Cathedrals and other resonant interiors like the Niguliste church here, amplify his micro-/over-tones into overwhelming harmonic spectres as delicate and monstrous as thunder. On Ignis, his first record since 1993, Giger has moved on to a small string ensemble and the prodigious talents of the Estonian Chamber Choir to test a mixture of early music and improvisation. Of five compositions, two are solely for string trio. Reworked from a 12th century Notre Dame school "Organum" and a 10th century "Alleluja", both provide a linear place for the kind of ethereal violin Giger broadcast alone on his two startling solo recordings "Chartres" and "Schattenwelt".

However it is the three works in combination with Tonu Kaljuste's mixed choir, that are worthy of closer regard. All three share a similar unfolding narrative quality and are driven by some sacred occurrence in which secular/discarnate strings seem to tempt or usher or flee divine voices. The daring 21-minute "Karma Shadub" is like a Gyorgi Ligeti dream of "cloister minimalism". "Tropus", at nearly 14 minutes and "O Ignis" at 26 are even more dramatic. Both have been derived from sources nearly a thousand years old -the work of monk composers from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Gallen & Hildegard von Bingen respectively- which Giger has again reconfigured to special effect. The holy images relayed suggest visions or hallucinations: the descent into a stony "Abyss of Ages" or a transmigration of souls through great vaporous conduits of medieval unconscious space, or even a chance encounter with a transpersonal being in mossy dims beyond the monastery.

Though Giger maintains this is sacred music, it is difficult to tell whether the import is chiefly intended to be theatrical, discursive or devotional. Regardless, this is an earthy and supernatural session, which at the very least heralds a fascinating new realm of visually evocative religious music. - Steve Taylor

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