field of stars

the tears of mary

Oliver Schroer | Camino
solo violin and ambient recordings from the camino de santiago in france and spain may–june 2004)

Big Dog Music • BD0601 > www.oliverschroer.com

Beyond Notes and Words
by Joyce Corbett July 2006

Oliver Schroer’s CD Camino is the sonic expression of a spiritual journey. It is contemporary religious music but the ancient, the medieval and the baroque are also present. It is a sublime composition of solo violin, birds singing, church bells ringing, prayer, choirs faintly heard and the solid crunch of footsteps. These sounds were recorded along the thousand kilometres of the camino de santiago de compostela that Oliver Schroer walked in the spring of 2004, carrying his violin and recording equipment in his knapsack, carefully wrapped in socks and underwear.

The camino de santiago is an eleven-hundred-year-old trail through France and Spain leading to the burial place of St. James the apostle. It is a Christian pilgrimage, but in the ambient sounds of the CD and the poetic description of the music in the accompanying booklet, an animistic sensibility seems also to be reflected. The medieval gargoyles, the glass saints and the stone beasts, pause to listen to the man with the fiddle.

Much of the music is improvised, inspired by the time and the place — physical, as the acoustics of an ancient church; or spiritual, as the replacement of the consciousness of pain by the consciousness of beauty. The resonance of ancient spaces is an important ingredient of the music and so is the sonic exploration of the vibrations of bow on strings. Sometimes surprising sounds emerge from this matrix and I referred to the notes, reading “all reverbs you hear on this recording are natural, the effect of playing in these spectacular, sonic spaces”.

The beautiful photography and the poetic words in english, french, spanish, dutch and german add to the full experience of the CD. Peter Coffman’s introduction to the music is written in four languages, yet nothing is translated. The sentences flow from one language to another as part of the same description, an interesting idea. You might wonder how this could work but it does.

The CD contains 20 pieces and is best listened to whole, in semi-obscurity as the sun is setting or as it is rising. The first piece is the longest at just over eight minutes. None could write a better description of it than Oliver Schroer himself: “field of stars” a reinvention of a million stars, the title track of my last album, over the course of the camino, I loosened my grip and let this melody shatter against stone walls and romanesque arches. The echoes and shards reassembled and found new life.”

The second piece, “camino overture” combines the sounds of a distant violin, footsteps, birds, crickets, sheep and bells. In other words, it contains most of the musical components of the CD and is one of several ambient soundscapes. The shortest of these, at forty seconds, is “bells and birds”, a sonic portrait of a morning in rural France, purely ambient sound flowing into the following “garden of birds and flowers”. Dedicated to Oliver Schroer’s mother, this piece echoes traditional waltzes and the ghosts of delicate fiddle tunes.

After the violin, bells and birds are the most frequently heard 'instruments' on Camino. “cowbarn bells” is “music played by cows”, each one wearing a bell with a different sound as they all toss their heads to shake off flies. This is followed with a walk in the forest accompanied by birdsong. “bellplay”, is a recording of church bells with enough rhythm to sound like a group of percussionists.

The wordless singing of Oliver Schroer’s voice joins that of his violin on one piece, the “lord’s prayer”, originally recorded on his solo violin CD O2. Between voice and violin it is difficult to say which has the most ethereal quality. Also from O2, I recognize “grace” whose celtic roots are clearly heard and whose qualities are entirely suited to the context.

Exquisite and tender, “the tears of mary” is played with enormous sensitivity. The tonality and intervals of this and the “the pilgrim’s prayer” are particularly haunting, somewhat reminiscent of a traditional piece from the Massif Central region of France. The overall mood of the CD is contemplative but not dark. The piece “and everyone was smiling”, which, Oliver writes, “burst forth one day, fully fledged” has a characteristically Irish lilt, without ever breaking into the form of a folk song.

And I can’t end this review without a mention of one of my favourites on this CD, “in memory of friends past”. This piece has the ability to reach into your limbic system with ancient force and elicit tears. It is played with great finesse and intervals of tragedy. Cyclic vibrations and seemingly electronic sounds emanate from the violin and the space in which it is played.

A sonic journey, Camino is a CD of rare beauty to be treasured.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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