Michael Vincent Waller offers miniatures after La Monte Young, short duration works that hold the seed-syllables for long duration extemporisations; unlike the seeds cooked by Young, Waller’s mentor of five years, Waller allows his five pieces to expire upon tracing themselves in your memory. They hardly overstay their welcome – instead their figures recur naturally long after they are essayed by the fine pianists Megumi Shibata (#1 – 4) and Jenny Q. Chai (#5). Waller has crafted romantic trance fragments, revivifying counterpoint and drop-dead melodies, but holding those seeds of potential endless expansion. Debussy, yes – but also antecedents as divergent as Thomas De Hartmann’s Gurdjieff works (brief studies that also contain multitudinous facets within the 3-5 minute duration range), and the fine composer/pianist (disparaged by that taxonomical kiss-of-death, “New Age” music), W.A. Mathieu.
Waller’s regard for tonal color pervades throughout a fairly broad range of themes, from serpentine melancholy to stately, insistent passages that sound as if they were composed for an imaginary but no less important occasion. While quite dissimilar from Laurence Crane’s sound world, Crane came to mind several times in one regard – listen to how Waller, as he put it in an interview just prior to releasing Five Easy Pieces, imbues his miniatures with an increasing potential for reformation of the mould, how beautiful melodies, chromaticism and the insistence of minimalism breathe anew, when presented with Waller’s sound and structure, and the pianist’s touch.
Waller has clearly used the models in his immediate lineage (mentors Young and Bunita Marcus) in his own process and practice; as he said about his own aha! experience when, as an even younger man (the composer is 29), he first encountered the shock of the new – … in terms of the first music that struck me as original, it’s hard to really say – but, maybe the Beatles’ White Album provided one of my first senses of magnitude, of something timeless and truly original. I felt this the first time I listened to Schoenberg, Bartok, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Ligeti, Feldman, Satie, Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, and many more. It is the same feeling that is continually revitalised, recontextualised, and expanded; both forward and back in history.
There is obviously nothing easy about creating pieces that revitalise and expand one’s antecedents – like Crane, Waller is patiently expanding out from their shadows, faithful to the elemental, while offering something present in time and being. As I said when writing about Crane in this regard, I have no earthly idea how they do it, only gratitude for what Waller makes, moving forward and back, forward and back.