Maybe go stare at a tree and listen to Anna von Hausswolff play the pipe organ
By Chris Richards,
As instrumental solo albums by heavy-metal pipe organists go, this new one from Anna von Hausswolff is easy to like. But it takes a little effort to love. The album is called “All Thoughts Fly,” which might be von Hausswolff’s way of untethering our brains from every association we’ve ever formed with organ music. In other words, if you’re hoping to feel this recording’s weird majesty on a cellular level, you’ll have to get your head out of the funeral parlor, the wedding chapel, the haunted castle, the seventh-inning stretch and the intro of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Otherworldly and immense, this music belongs someplace else.
The Swedish composer is doing some head-clearing here, too. Her previous records were filled with ornate pop tunes that channeled heavy-metal opulence into Kate Bush-ish song shapes. But on “All Thoughts Fly,” it’s all organ — no singing, nothing else. Only for an artist as ambitious as von Hausswolff does blasting colossal puffs of melody from a gigantic worship machine qualify as “less is more.”
About that machine. It’s an attempted replica of a 17th-century German behemoth housed inside Gothenburg’s Örgryte New Church, and von Hausswolff has recorded its mondo hiss and groan with thoughtful economy — two microphones out in the pews, two more shoved up into the instrument’s guts. So if this recording doesn’t make you feel as if you’re in the room, it should probably make you feel as if you’re inside the music itself. And once you’re situated in that sacred space, the sensation is immersive and paradoxical — a massive, gentle, swallowing sound that threatens to crush you with its caress.
For all the high-drama vagueness, von Hausswolff says these songs were made to evoke a specific place: Sacro Bosco, the 16th-century park in central Italy famous for its eerie bedrock sculptures of gods and monsters. (The cover of “All Thoughts Fly” features a grainy photograph of von Hausswolff at the park, standing in the stone maw of Orcus, Roman god of the underworld.) “The people who built this park truly set their minds and imagination free,” she says. This album “is a homage to this creation, and an effort to articulate the atmosphere and the feelings that this place evokes inside of me.”
But instead of trying to transport your mind’s ear to Italy, maybe it’s better to set your imagination free, as von Hausswolff says. That way, the heaving staccato pulses of “Theatre of Nature” begin to evoke the rah-rah of a celestial baseball game. The fluttering notes of the title track translate into 12 minutes on the massage table at God’s day spa.
Or maybe that isn’t free enough. Forget the imaginary wonderworlds. Forget the churches, the chapels, the minor league ballparks. Forget Sacro Bosco, too. Instead, try listening to this record while watching the nearest tree twist in the wind. Listen to it while tracking a cloud across the sky. Listen as the afternoon sunlight slides across your bedroom ceiling.
If these everyday experiences suddenly feel weirdly new, then the music is doing its simplest, most virtuous work. Instead of helping you escape your reality, it’s changing it.