MIND OVER MIRRORS
Paradise of Bachelors - 17 February 2017
Mind Over Mirrors, the ever-evolving project of Jaime Fennelly, deploys modest acoustic constituent materials—an Indian pedal harmonium and the human voice—to produce roiling, meditative music that both simulates the swells and troughs of synthesized electronics and conjures the ceaseless rhythms of tidal surges. While we can point out referential sonic compass points—G.I. Gurdjieff’s harmonium improvisations; certain particularly harmonically viscous recordings of Sacred Harp singers; Edward Artemiev’s soundtracks to Tarkovsky films—in its prayerful patience, its simultaneously formal and folk aspects, and its unabashed (if intermittently anxious) beauty, it doesn’t sound much like anything else being made today. There is an easy, and unusual, confluence of praise and play at work in Jaime’s music that catalyzes heady reverie. This sense of simultaneity, of intertwined traditions, recalls Henry Flynt’s fusion of Appalachian traditions with avant-garde tactics, an acknowledged influence.
Fennelly buttresses his simple harmonium foundation with an assortment of oscillators, tape delays, and synthesizing processors that belong to the world of classic analog electronic composition. The choice of the harmonium—a 19th-century pump and pedal-operated reed keyboard instrument that once featured prominently in North Indian and European classical and religious canons as well as the vernacular music of Scandinavia, the American South, and seagoing vessels—is significant for its historical, cultural, and folkloric associations as much the self-imposed compositional or technological limitations. But make no mistake—despite the academic and abstract valences, Mind Over Mirrors is body music. In live performance, Jaime’s feet are constantly pumping the harmonium’s pedals, and the music’s essential corporeality (in the sense of Harry Partch’s designation of “corporeal music”) has fostered a close collaborative relationship with acclaimed choreographer and dancer Miguel Gutierrez since 2001.
Though Fennelly now resides in Chicago, Mind Over Mirrors emerged during a three-year period during 2007-2010 while he was living on a remote island in the Salish Sea of Washington State. Since then, he has released recordings on Immune as well as Digitalis, Hands In the Dark, and Aguirre/Gift Tapes. In the early 2000’s, Fennelly co-founded the iconoclastic group Peeesseye (with guitarist and fellow PoB artist Chris Forsyth and drummer/visual artist Fritz Welch) in Brooklyn. While Mind Over Mirrors emerged along a decidedly solo axis, in 2014 Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux began accompanying him on select recordings and performances, complementing his solitary reeling and gorgeous, woozy speechlessness with her electrifying singing and contributing a new textual dimension with her occasional, elliptical lyrics.
Working together, Fennelly and Fohr created The Voice Calling (2015), another masterful and singular Mind Over Mirrors album—as challenging and enveloping as ever, but achieving a more immediate emotional and psychological register—that garnered new audiences and earned rapturous praise from the likes of Pitchfork, SPIN, Impose, BOMB, and NPR, who described it as “an out-of-body experience.”
Undying Color, Fennelly’s PoB debut, is his most ambitious and spellbinding set to date, and the first to supplement his foundational arsenal of Indian pedal harmonium, analog synthesizers, and incantatory voices with a full ensemble, including Janet Beveridge Bean (Eleventh Dream Day), Jim Becker (Califone), Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux), and Jon Mueller (Death Blues). Undying Color braids folk and formal, praise and play, within its heady swells and troughs, invoking American vernacular musical traditions and pulsating avant-garde electronics alike. With prayerful patience and ceremonial gravity, it conjures and celebrates the cyclical rhythms of nature: tidal surges, human breathing, cicadas in the wilderness gloaming.