Boomkat Product Review:
Award-winning composer Claire M Singer returns to Touch with her most stirring full-length, the first part of a proposed triptych that captures the beauty of the Scottish mountains with dramatic pipe organ blasts and subtle, damaged rhythms.
Singer knows her way around a pipe organ better than most. Not only is she Music Director of the organ at London's Union Chapel, she runs the UK's only organ festival, Organ Reframed, and has been writing for the instrument for over a decade. 'Saor' (meaning "free" in Scottish Gaelic) is her second proper album for Touch, and is a triumph of not only technique but composition. In her hands, the pipe organ is expressive, not just an aesthetic pointer to our liturgical past, and she layers harmonies that charm and bewilder as they slowly evolve. This isn't a loose set of dirges, it's a deftly balanced, deceptively complex symphony that uses the inherent power and spiritual theater of the instrument to evoke pure emotion.
Singer was motivated by two particular themes: her walks in Aberdeenshire's Cairngorms, and her experience getting acquainted with the 1872 Conacher organ, an instrument that arrived in Forgue Kirk, where many of her ancestors are buried, shortly after the Church of Scotland allowed it to be used again after over 300 years. This personal resonance is apparent on the album's opener 'Cairn Toul', a weighty composition that starts by establishing the tonal quality - wavering, ghosted drones - before adding thematic heft. Unashamedly grandiose, it's music that captures both the imposing, mountainous landscape and the solemn mass of history, sounding contemporary in its approach but aware of its historical function. She helps set the scene with short skits, recording the environmental creaks, clanks and hisses that help us lock into her location. They make the longer, more lushly crafted pieces sing louder and more clearly, so when we hear 'Forrig' after the brief 'Outside', a quick chirp from the surrounding natural world, it sounds all the more angelic.
And on 'Above and Below', Singer adds stubbly, distorted textures and rhythms, bending her organ sounds underneath woody clatters and blown-out hits. The centerpiece is the title track though, an almost 25-minute hum that cleverly only implies its magnificence. Singer waits a good 13 minutes before slipping from cautious drones into dense, powerful motifs, and when the drop comes, it's like a message straight from the heavens. You can almost touch the fog.