THE EVEN GROUND
Think of music as a river. Once upon a time, as humanity was emerging from caves and treetops, all music was simply organized sounds. Over time, the whistles, clicks, grunts and banging rocks were organized into an accepted harmonic language, and the river split into increasingly finite tributaries, known as genres. Each genre has its own rules, associations and following, which makes intercommunication difficult.
This atomization of sound makes for false dichotomies, such as folk & classical, high & low. Electronic music was originally the terrain of high art and culture, incorporated into classicism via composers like Olivier Messiaen and Iannis Xenakis, who sought to expand the harmonic vocabulary. On the other hand, you have genres like jazz, which started off as music by, for and about the people, trickling out of whorehouses and street parades. This popular language would be co-opted by the academics, until it's at this point about as stale and dead for the most part as a painting in a museum.
Like inbreeding, too much specialization inside a genre leads to atrophy and decay. There comes a point when you need to trace the river to its source, to find the root of all sound and music. That's where things get interesting.The Philomath by English-born, Indonesia-based producer Transmigrant is an intriguing blend of classicism, electronics, non-Western music, field recordings and spoken word samples that seek to tell a story in tone poems and other people's worlds. The Philomath was born when Sam Morgan, the man behind Transmigrant, relocated to Papua, New Guinea for a teaching position. There wasn't much to do, so Morgan filled the hours playing violin and piano, which would become the skeleton for Transmigrant.
Stylistically, Transmigrant bears the strongest sonic resemblance to explosive, emotive instrumental post-rock of the 2000s, like Rachel's or The Dirty Three in particular. These instrumental soundscapes are particularly adept at tugging the heartstrings, particularly with the soaring, keening, crestfallen violin, which is a highpoint of this record. Morgan's tone poems get particularly interested when layered with the additional associations of music from other times and places.
So yeah, it's classical, it's electronic, there's a bit of jazz ("Halley's Comet," the thunderous double bass of "Youth And Age And All In Between"). Not content with creating another instrumental rock record, no matter how beautiful, Morgan layers his climactic, emotive and tumultuous sounds with spoken word samples from notable physicists to express Morgan's love of the universe's deep, dark mysteries.
There's a lot going on in The Philomath, enough to warrant a philosophical essay, so let's cut to the chase - does it sound good? The challenge of dabbling in multiple genres means a record must succeed by the standards of each. It's got to begreat electronic music, outstanding classical, exceptional jazz or else the whole thing crumbles to dust (think about how many tracks were ruined by piss-poor remixes in the '90s). The answer, thank the gods, is - it does indeed. Morgan's violin and piano playing are the real showstoppers here, on par with any of the artists already mentioned (no small compliment), but Morgan also reveals himself to be an astute electronic producer, particularly rhythmically. This is what makes or breaks an electronic record, ultimately. If someone just drops some pre-made presets onto a track and lets them repeat indefinitely, you can definitely tell. It is equally apparent when a lot of time, attention and detail goes into an electronic track, as you can hear with masters of the genre like Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Autechre, et al.
Sam Morgan set out to take listeners on a journey with The Philomath, a sonic simulacrum of his experience being away from home, ensconced in the jungle, and I would say he definitely succeeds. If you are looking for a record to represent the emotional depths of whatever Natural Geographic documentary or photo spread you happen to be looking at, look no further.
4.1 / 5 - TOP ALBUM
2015 has proven a great year for several genres, not so much prog but the muses have shone their light upon a multitude of bands and artists from disparate corners of the musical world to bring forth more great albums than can be easily counted. Much of this providence was quickly apparent as the year got under way, as successive better and better albums within short time spans quickly led to an embarrassment of riches, but I had no idea that this year would be so good to post rock too until this project came to my attention for evaluation.
Said project's debut, "The Philomath", is the most unique post record in a year that's also given us a The World Is A Beautiful Place... album, which says a lot right there, and also manages to be something intriguing and beautiful. The album is driven not by guitar but piano, sounding almost as much of a Bill Evans project as the Sam Morgan post rock project it is. The use of guitar is rather subtle and gentle, but unleashes beauty and power to rival an Explosions In The Sky release. And from soft rains and swirling waves of water comes spoken word foundations, the core of the record's structure and the prime source of its freshness. There is a strength all its own in the literary and poetic quotes used, and it completes an atmosphere of olden wonder and aquatic gorgeousness. And to connect everything, there is a solid and meaningful progression through the instruments to link together the vocals and the various points of textural excellence. Altogether this is a journey out to sea, back in time, and away from the troubles of life, towards a forgotten rest spot through philosophical musings and the power of good music.
WAGNER HERTZOG - HIPSTER MINIONS
The Philomath is a 2015 album released by the creative and talented English musician Sam Morgan “Transmigrant”, currently based in Indonesia. Certainly one of the greatest underground albums of the year, The Philomath is an instrumental album that flirts with neoclassical compositions, and also with lounge music, and it has on piano and violin the main components of its artistic power.
One thing interesting about the album is the fact that, for the main part, its music is, to a great extent, indefinite in terms of musical categorization: its genre is very unique. Sam leads us through a personal realm of sound and sensibility, and, for almost an hour, you can swim through the great vastness of his creative musical endeavors, filled with an original input of passion and soul. In melancholic, but overwhelmingly beautiful sounds, permeated by the spoken word poetry of Charles Bukowski, Stanley Kunitz, Jean Binta Breeze, Adrian Henri and John Betjeman, as well as excerpts of speeches by Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman, you will certainly recognize a little of each sound deeply inside yourself.
An eclectic musician, Sam’s main inspirations for his work were, in his own words, Rock, Jazz, Classical, Electronica, and Ambient. Nevertheless, he managed to create something beautifully peculiar, with a profound degree of singularity that inspires wonder and admiration for his music. Without being pretentious, but sincere and meaningful, his originality should never go unnoticed.
With an atmosphere of serenity and peace, the melodies will captivate the listener, giving birth to an ethereal journey of different elements and perceptions, hard to name at first. A cool sense of nostalgia for classical Jazz and old radio songs will certainly invade your soul, and as soon as the album finishes, you will certainly feel the need to hear it again. Nevertheless, this is an album you have to hear, and drawn into your own conclusions, since it takes you onto a very personal journey of sensorial transcendence and reflexive wisdom.
MIKE FERGUSON - http://somediurnalauralawe.blogspot.co.id
Cascading piano rolls and recorded voice invoking the whole universe, violin strains sweetly layered across this. So begins this delightful album and opening track The Philomath, when suddenly just under two minutes in, a prog-rock burst erupts and then settles into electronic scratches/pulses and percussive other. The voice later speaks of cosmic evolution, but I am more enamoured by the musical evolution within the song, an eclecticism that will pervade the whole album with a rich sense of connectivity where one might expect it to be disjointed – the jazz sax and rhythms that interject in this track seemingly quite a natural progression, the piano rolls tying it all together.
SHUT THAT GOD-DAMNED THING OFF! is part of the next song’s story rather than any urge to the music, a line from Bukowski’s fine poem The Soldier, His Wife and the Bum, and I am more comfortable with spoken word poetry within instrumental surrounds than any other, but that is simple preference. This song The Vagrant is another excellent amalgam of the beautiful with piano and violin [acoustic and synthesised] and the raucous crescendo that ironically follows the third verse,
anyhow, I never went to another live concert
and that night I listened to the radio very
quietly, my ear pressed to the
At this song’s end there is a sudden sax flurry that immediately segues into next Halley’s Comet, echoes of Van der Graaf, and the poem intoned here is HC by Stanley Kunitz, a poem of childhood terror and yearning for a missing father. The next Isostasy – which is of course the equilibrium that exists between parts of the earth’s crust, which behaves as if it consists of blocks floating on the underlying mantle, rising if material [such as an ice cap] is removed and sinking if material is deposited - and the music here is again eclectic, though the violin sweeps fill rousingly.
Composer and performer Sam Morgan has drawn together his musical soundscapes and external poetry/narratives that are ultimately quite beautiful in their merging, those spacerock/progrock/jazz/classical injections allowing the contrasts to establish their creative edge so that it isn’t just some picturesque, ambient surround. Sixth track Papuan Prayer embeds its chant movingly, and this adds a further eclecticism to the mix.
Other contributors to the album are Grace Marsell, Carl Segan and Richard Feynman, and other poems used are: John Betjeman’s lush Youth and Age on Beaulieu River, Adrian Henri’s Death in the Suburbs, and Jean Binta Breeze’s Earth Cries so that a sense of place with its importance, both as physical reality and memories evoked, become a core theme to the album’s preoccupation.
This album can be – and is encouraged to be – downloaded for free here. I paid a fiver because that seems only fair, though having said this it is still a ridiculous bargain for such a fine album. I’ll post a YouTube video next if you want a taste, but I definitely recommend a download and a rewarding listen.