Sunday, 29 April 2012

JUDGE SMITH: The Climber

I have had this cd, still in its shrinkwrap, sitting on the coffee table in my sitting room for several weeks. Together with a book on Armenian butterflies, an account of early naturalists in southern China, a number of science fiction books, and tweo DVDs of talks by the Dalai Lama, it is part of the ever growing pile of things that I want to watch/listen to/read that threatens to engulf my living area.

I have had people staying or visiting solidly for weeks, and as I grow older I need to concentrate more on things that I review, especially things like this that I was aware were going to be major works of art that I wanted to give the attention that it deserves.

And I was right. This is a far more intense experience than Judge's third song story Orfeas. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed Orfeas very much indeed, but The Climber is a totally different ball game.

For a start the instrumentation is far simpler - just a male voice choir and a string bass. Did I say simpler? The multi-levelled textures that the choir produces just from massed human vocal shords are extraordinary. Listening to some of these dense vocal orchestrations, you find yourself noty only not missing any further instrumentation, but actually being grateful that Judge did not succumb to the temptation to add any; it would have been overkill!

For the first time, listening to his music, I am reminded that he was once a member of Van der Graaf Generator. If you can imagine a choral version of Pawn Hearts telling the story of a climber who ends up questioning the nature of reality whilst facing death from cerebral anoxia at the top of a mountain, then you might come close to bits of what this record is about. Other bits are pure D'Oyly Carte, and yet more bits sound like some of Petw Townshend's more cerebral experiments.

Over the years I have heard several pieces of music which use descriptions of physical challenges like - say - mountaineering as a metephor for sexual activity, but here Judge Smith explores the sensual gratification of the aforementioned physical challenge and uses it to do exactly what it says on the tin, tell the story of a loner (who one suspects is somewhat of a misanthrope), and what happens when he disobeys his guide's advice and climbs a mountain solo in inapporopriate weather.

This is one of the most extraordinary things I have heard in years. I am very tempted to go and listen to it again right now. In fact, I think I will...

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