Review: Phil Maguire – ijzer en staal

VERZ.

While Maguire’s previous work, Bairds of Gartsherrie, was a broader reflection on his family’s hometown of Coatbridge, ijzer en staal focuses on the physical process that quite literally powered the town’s history: the creation of iron and steel. The former release is imbued with an outward thematic energy, broadening the radius from family, to locale, to the region’s history of iron production, to the industrial revolution at large. In contrast, these two new extended pieces – both produced on the Serge synthesiser – are all about inward pressure, tightening focus around the molecular dance at the very centre.

The whole thing is exquisite analogic sound design. Maguire mirrors the process of chemical reduction (whereby iron ore is reduced to iron in its elemental form) through a stubborn resistance of compositional complexity, instead encouraging an appraisal of the shuffling low frequencies and overtonal glints that truly sing when the interventions of the composer hand are intentionally scarce. On the first piece in particular, a microtonal tension starts to emerge as if a single drone is being prised apart; molecules quivering as they renegotiate their chemical allegiance amidst the heat. Perhaps the most satisfying point of connection is that blast furnaces operate using a method of continuous production, which requires them to run for months, even years without stopping. This is beautifully rendered in a sound that drapes itself upon the base of consciousness, exerting just enough movement to retain active engagement yet sufficiently static to abet thoughts of the infinite; the possibility that these hums, locked into a cycle of non-endings and non-beginnings, will persist in steadfast parallel to time itself. In this way, ijzer en staal loops back round to touch upon the themes of Bairds of Gartsherrie. At the peak of their production, one can imagine these blast furnaces becoming formidable and seemingly immortal facets of the landscape, standing witness to the rises and falls of history forever.