Sissel by John Tilbury / Keith Rowe / Kjell Bjørgeengen


The trio collaborating herein breaks down as follows: John Tilbury on piano, Keith Rowe responsible for guitar and electronics, and Kjell Bjørgeengen conducting live video. On Sissel (SOFA, 2018), an album (CD, LP) released on May 25 and named for Bjørgeengen‘s wife who passed away only weeks before recording the record, the three conjure a sublime forty-eight minute long homage. The quiet off-key piano breaks into silences that are haunting and still while the hiss of open electronic noise are diffused somewhere in the background. There is a bit of unrest at the opening of Sissel where it sounds like instrument cases or furniture are being dragged about. The muted atmosphere where a forlorn piano is played in near slow motion is balanced with a jagged feedback.


A stripped down set that falls between nu-classical, (way) out jazz and broken electronics seems like the release of spirits in big pregnant pauses that won’t let go, a heavy air circulating like bloated gray clouds. Tilbury and Rowe of course collaborated much previously in the experimental AMM outfit from the ’60’s onward. Norwegian flicker video producer Bjørgeenges, as a longterm collaborator, took a definitive role in the making of this venture, suggesting a viewing of Nicolas Poussin‘s 1648 painting Landscape with the Gathering of the Ashes of Phocion by his Widow (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) which led to being introduced to a book based on the painting called The Sight of Death by TJ Clark.


Throughout you can hear percussion made from improvised tapping and circular mechanics, echoing piano keys, buzzing drone and sudden added effects. The passionate intersection between the three players makes for a wrenching and disciplined dirge at times. Still the tiny crackle and crunch of a wheeled object sounds like a fire, referencing the painting and likely real life/death respectively and respectfully. It’s moody, stopping just short of broody, and this record takes its sweet time to cast its spell. But as they continue taking new steps forward the quietude in between tonal actions feel like looking at old faded photos and releasing small particles of dust into a stream of light, one by one. Even if I hadn’t read about the subject of this recording it would have been a heartbreaker nonetheless.

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