The Waste Land
︎ LP — €20
Boris Rogowski conceived the idea for The Waste Land in the autumn of 2020, when the world became quiet again after a deceptively easygoing summer. During a walk among the “last fingers of leaf” he revisited in his mind the landscape of T.S. Eliot’s enigmatic poem The Waste Land, a somber meditation on disillusionment, nostalgia and isolation in the “modern” world of the early 1920s. It had accompanied Rogowski for many years, and knowing entire passages by heart he found that the strange, tuneful lines had left him with a sort of musical map of the Waste Land. What he heard was a string quartet playing amid a stream of dissolving, permanently mutating sounds, seeking hold, losing it, coming up for air again. The music he envisioned melded contradictions into a cohesive whole, was strange yet universally accessible and – just like Eliot’s poem – an expression both of sorrow for a lost world and hope for a new beginning, deep admiration for classical tradition and disgust at the snobbery and ignorance of an elitist class trying to keep it under lock and key.
The even quieter winter months found Rogowski working long days and nights on the score, putting the music in his head to paper. Also, he quested for the sounds that would be able to represent the stream of synthetic memories that in his vision rolled through the music like the river Thames through the central portion of the poem—and found that they were already there, right in front of him: In the early days of the pandemic he and his friend and studio co-owner Bazzazian had harnessed the halt of everyday life to create a library of sounds that embodied their very own idea of style. For this purpose, they had sent their recordings of acoustic and electronic instruments through a specially devised processing chain, giving them an evocative, strangely timeless quality. It was only logical that those sounds would form the foundation of The Waste Land.
Later, in the spring of 2021, other musicians brought in their unique voices: Moishe Lichtfuss [flute, tenor sax] added his woodwind textures to many of the compositions, most notably on “The Sound of Horns and Motors”. Claus Schulte [drums] made a brief, yet crucial appearance on the centerpiece “The Violet Hour”. At last, the Waste Land String Quartet (Alexander Sachs and Irina Borissova [violins], Anna Krimm [viola] and Michael Preuß [cello]) recorded their parts under the baton of fellow composer David Menke who also played the solo piano on the brooding “In Rats’ Alley”.
The Waste Land is a unique musical cosmos that nonetheless touches upon many reference points, among them the minimalist music of composers like Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, Post Rock of bands like Tortoise or Swans and contemporary Experimental and Ambient works like those of KMRU, Christina Vantzou or Tim Hecker. Like Eliot’s poem, it contains a multitude of voices and fuses them to a music very much its own. The album begins with a wash of piano that carries splendor and melancholia in equal measures and ends with the pointillistic rhythm of Morse code spelling out the final words of The Waste Land, “Shantih shantih shantih”—peace.
In 2022, T.S. Eliot’s poem will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Its central themes (solitude, estrangement and a wounded world with an alarmingly uncertain future) are even more pressing today than they were 100 years ago. Boris Rogowski’s soundscapes embody the mood perfectly: The fear and darkness as much as the faint, yet stubborn hope for the light of a new day.
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