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«The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion»

Cleek Schrey is an American, Virginia-based experimental composer-improviser-sound artist whose work is preoccupied with the physical phenomena of vibrating strings and the histories and aesthetics of recording technologies. Weston Olencki is an American, Berlin-based experimental composer-sound artist-audio engineer whose work focuses on non-linear relationships and unexpected resonances between experimental sound, geography, historicity, and (mostly American) musical traditions.

The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is a collection of distinct «readings» of shape-note hymns, early American singing practice over 200 years old of many collections of religious, secular, and popular tunes whose aim was fostering large-scale group singing and widespread musical literacy. These tunes highlight the complex issues of forging a new «American» identity. This collection of shape-note hymns is from the Sacred Harp tradition, a tradition of sacred choral music that originated in New England and was later perpetuated and carried on in the American South, and specifically the 1835 edition of Baptist and shape note «singing master» William Walker’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Cleek and Olencki approach these shape-note hymns not as choral music but as experimental instrumental pieces and employ a pair of more than 125-year-old wooden Estey pump organs, known as instruments that were made to accompany Christian missionaries throughout the world that could withstand the climatic challenges of the tropics. The usage of these vintage instruments nods to the ordinary, domestic, and spiritual spaces in which this vernacular music was practiced. Cleek and Olencki unearth the inharmonic resonances of the shape tone hymns and with subtle sonic treatments (sine tones, reed organ and bowed and scraped banjo strings) attempt to illuminate not only the hypnotic or unsettling overtones but also possible futures of this collection. These old hymns become untimely and mysterious, austere, minimalist and sometimes even reductionist, meditative set of imaginative but irreverent rituals, especially on the 19-minute «Sharon (124)».

Eyal Hareuveni  

Cleek Schrey (Estey pump organ, sine tones), Weston Olencki (Estey pump organ, electric reed organs, banjo)