The Last Voyage aka Soundtrack to a Non-Existent Movie, is just one of four album releases so far this year from Michael Keith. It reveals another dimension to his work, namely ‘programme music’ (“music intended to suggest a sequence of images or incidents ” – The Penguin Concise Dictionary).
This somewhat new style complements his blues guitar/voice persona, the Iranian-flavoured exotic-stringed-instrument excursions and the improvised, sometimes sonically extreme, collaborations with like-minded colleagues.
Predominantly minor chords establish a sense of melancholic dignity. Impressionistic track titles give rise to a kind of audio science fiction novella. Alternatively, the ‘non-existent movie’ which accompanies the sound could be imagined as a cross between Paris, Texas and Arrival.
The artist describes the scenario:
“When a heartbroken young woman decides to review her grandfather’s journals from his years at NASA, a profound occurrence takes place.”
It’s helpful to have some kind of situation or landscape to place the music in. There is great depth in the sound, which could stretch back in time as well as space. The texture is sparse, with skilful use of reverb, delay, tremolo, flange and some audio clips of human voices.
We’re not talking about looper pedals or synthesized sequences. These soundscapes are not multi-layered, but neither are they dead and dry. The single instrument used, bass guitar with piccolo strings, has a rich and unusual tone.
The spontaneous composition inherent in The Last Voyage gives it an unpredictable quality. You’re not sure if certain harmonic shifts are intentional or not. Consequently there’s no predefined formula. Yet in contrast to some of Michael Keith’s other recordings, whether that be the free atonal stuff or the spiritual contemplations, melody is paramount, especially the Main Theme.
The whole is reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s atmospheric soundtrack work, and every bit as good. The Last Voyage is available on bandcamp.
Other posts on Michael Keith.
The Ben Walker Group play live at La Rev, Toronto, on April 21st at 6pm