Originally released as a cassette limited to 223 copies on the LowerYourHead imprint—presumably the artist’s own—and subsequently a CD on China’s brilliant Pest Productions, Cloud : Musica Pro Lapsu consists of two modestly lengthy instrumental suites of sombre loveliness. To anyone familiar with M. Williams’ other incarnations (Hell, Elu of the Nine, Merkstave), ‘quiet loveliness’ is perhaps the last thing one would expect, and yet here it is without a hint of massive, crushing low-end misery in sight. There are no anvil-hammering drums thumping away funereally, and certainly no tubercular throat-clearing gargle vocals—just twenty minutes of melancholic, contemplative minimalism.
Cloud : Musica Pro Lapsu is the kind of thing that lazy journalists would go out of their way to tag as ‘modern classical’. Regardless of whether that is a reference to the whole of the eccentric side of Western music or the part of it that came between the Baroque and Romantic periods, this is neither. It inhabits a musical landscape alongside some of Richard A. Ingram‘s solo work (his ‘Piano Test’, for instance), much of Library Tapes, and Peter Broderick‘s soundtracks for films and modern dance. As with these and similar artists, on Cloud : Musica Pro Lapsu, Williams flirts with the sound and the minimal approach of composers such as Michael Nyman or Gavin Bryars, but remains rooted firmly in a rock vocabulary.
Admirers of Frank Zappa‘s orchestral works used to encourage Mothers of Invention fans to listen to the orchestral stuff ‘as if the Mothers were playing it’. Although it was sometimes more rewarding to listen to the Mothers as if Ensemble Modern were playing it, the trick is a good one, and works just as well here. Imagine this music played by Merkstave, and it wouldn’t be out-of-place on Lament for Lost Gods, for instance.
Both of the two suites (‘Musica Pro Lapsu’ and ‘Musicae Ad Figore Hiemes’) consist of three untitled parts. The first (‘Musica Pro Lapsu’, which translates to something like ‘Music for Fall’) is just under ten minutes of slow piano, strings, and wordless vocals. ‘Musicae Ad Figore Hiemes’ (‘Music to Cold Winters’) is just over ten minutes of the same. The limited instrumental palette is very effective, and especially so when Williams adds guitar to the mix.
‘Musica Pro Lapsu’ is the darker of the two tracks with low piano and strings suggesting a dire sense of gloom. For much of this opening track, the guitar is barely there: there is nothing there at all throughout the first movement, and just some high ringing tones at the end of the second. It isn’t until the third passage that Williams finally begins to sound like himself. The guitar first mimics the low strings heard elsewhere, but soon enough there is another layer grinding away in a storm of distortion, overdrive, and fuzz, almost threatening to overwhelm the piano and voice in a squall of feedback while never quite arriving at its seemingly inevitable climax.
‘Musicae Ad Figore Hiemes’ is brighter in spirit. Higher-register piano motifs suggest frost, and here the guitar is very much more to the fore. Its initial movement offers a quietly recorded distorted guitar that picks up where ‘Musica Pro Lapsu’ left off. The distortion swells through the first three minutes until the music fades into strings and voice. The effect of the quietly recorded and subtly mixed guitar adds a ghostly ambience that is reminiscent of Robert Fripp‘s distant wailing at the end of King Crimson’s seminal Lizard. The second part, again, features almost no guitar beyond some delicate tones at the start. Part three enters an acoustic tone that is reminiscent of the bright iciness that the opening piano phrases of parts one and two evoked.
It’s difficult to be innovative with music as simple as this, but it is a brave step for an artist as wedded to overpowering sonic onslaughts as Williams has been. Cloud : Musica Pro Lapsu provides ample evidence that there is a lot more to him than his textbook brand of suffocating doom.
01) Musica Pro Lapsu
02) Musicae Ad Figore Hiemes
Written by: Matt Leivers
Pest Productions (China) / PEST100 / CD
LowerYourHead (United States) / LowerYourHead : 1 / Tape, Digital
Atmospheric / Funeral Doom Metal / Modern Classical / Cinematic