Two different images flit in and out of focus. The first: a congregation of musicians in a studio, arranged in a circle, facing one another. Guitar, strings, saxophone, clarinet, piano, hurdy gurdy (amongst others). Sounds are put forth like queries, which are then responded to in accidental unison or through separate, overlapping strands of reply, which in turn generate their own ricochets of subdividing dialogue that pass across the circle at all angles; guitars groan and recoil at sudden surges of bowed string, while chimes rustle nervously as they ponder the incantations of whispered voices. This particular image of The Gatherer is a dense, intimate, droning free improvisation between a collective: a soup of traded reflexes and spontaneous collaborative sentiment, driven by deep listening and copious amounts of eye contact, melting various individual selves into a huge, freighter-sped sway of herd instinct (in which the little flickers of solo action are still visible). At times, this improvisation arrives at a gigantic hum of a dozen instruments simultaneously. At others, the energy drains to leave just one or two instruments stranded in a panorama just departed. Guitars mumbling through hiss, pianos tumbling through the quiet.
Yet I move back and forth. At certain points in my listening experience, I don’t hear people at all. The Gatherer becomes a stretch of forest, or a Martian crater, or undulating acres of fields. My thoughts of human instigation are engulfed by something much bigger: huge sweeps of terrain and sky and rippling horizon line, bursting far beyond the boundaries of the studio, ruffled by the intrusions of Autumnal weather and spates of rain. Despite emerging from the amalgamation of heartfelt saxophone solos and visceral violin performances, there are points at which The Gatherer feels utterly, paradoxically devoid of human life. I hear those saxophone solos as the gnarled outstretching of barren tree branches. Guitars and voices mimic the circulation of wind through a visually silent desert. Even those slow, metronomic beats seem to mark the lurch of astral time rather than the forward-march of anthropocentric rhythm. It’s so strange to feel alone in a landscape built from an amassment of human impulse; strolling through reverberant mists of dispersed musical intimacy, drenched in the perspirant rain of the most earnest and exhausting instrumental performances. Life is everywhere. I’m just too overwhelmed to see it.