Release Date: Jul 15, 2016
Record label: The Leaf Label
The first time I saw Jherek Bischoff perform was in a dark, dingy Birmingham venue around three years ago, when he played with Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra. He was the tall, gaunt, quirky, make-up-wearing bass player, jumping up and down to a cabaret cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ amidst a chaos of glitter, instruments and sweat. So when his latest album Cistern turned out to be this incredibly spirited passion project consisting of hair-raising, studiously arranged string sections, and epically haunting build-ups nothing short of whale song - I was surprised, to say the least.
The space in which music is played and performed can have an extraordinary effect on what you hear, not just acoustically, but in terms of inspiration and aesthetics. Grand concert halls are perfectly suited to soaring strings, whilst angular gig venues benefit electronica. Jherek Bischoff owes such a debt to the space in which his latest work was born that he has named the album after it.
Just your average cinematically orchestral exploration of an empty, subterranean two-million-gallon water tank? Well, composer/multi-instrumentalist Bischoff (last spotted aiding and abetting Amanda Palmer’s quick-release Bowie tribute EP at the beginning of the year) is hardly coy when it comes to inspiration. “I spent three days in the cistern improvising,” he says. “I found it so interesting how much the space itself seemed to tell us how to play.” The result is a suite of modern classical pieces that freewheel on orbits both real and imagined; a caul of percolating strings, woodwind and guitar, circumnavigating in loose patterns.
Jherek Bischoff’s new contemporary classical odyssey began in a massive, barren cement water tank underneath the ground at a disused US military base across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Manifesting the impression it made, Cistern summons the rapture and trepidation of edging through a vast unknown. Fort Warden is located in the northeast corner of Port Townsend, a small but scenic city of under ten thousand people with an outsized community of writers and artists.
With well over a decade as a multi-instrumentalist sideman, arranger, producer, and songwriter/composer under his belt, Jherek Bischoff follows his acclaimed solo breakthrough, Composed, with Cistern. While Composed featured a number of guests (David Byrne, Caetano Veloso, and Nels Cline among them) and an orchestral sound, it was constructed one instrument at a time by Bischoff. Here, he's joined by the 21-piece chamber ensemble Contemporaneous.
There’s a meditation on seclusion buried inside of Cistern, composer and songwriter Jherek Bischoff’s third full-length recording under his own name. The record takes its title and theme from an empty, two-million gallon water tank in Washington that Bischoff found during an artist residency. The time he spent in the darkness improvising with the space’s long reverb decay (“You snap your fingers and the sound lasts for 45 seconds!” Bischoff enthuses in his Kickstarter video) formed what would eventually become Cistern, and left him thinking about his teenage years, when Bischoff’s family sailed for South America on a tiny sailboat.
There is not, it must be said, a glut of albums born out of improvising from within a 2 million gallon underground water tank. At least not yet. Perhaps next year, once Cistern’s influence has taken hold, a penchant for subterranean orchestral work will be all the rage. Jherek Bischoff certainly has a knack for helping his compositions to find a wider audience.
Between 23:57 and the Witching Hour each night throughout August, the video for the title track of Jherek Bischoff’s new album Cistern will be projected onto 40 large screens across Time Square in New York. The avant garde composer and multi-instrumentalist was chosen as this month's virtual artist-in-residence for the Time Square Arts’ Midnight Moment. “Someone pinch me,” Jherek wrote in a recent blog on his website.