Saåad – Verdaillon (In Paradisum, 2016)


If there’s one thing that centuries of Christendom has refined it’s the size, power and inspiration of its countless churches and cathedrals around the world. But despite their outward imposition, their endlessly ornamented surfaces, gilt statues and millions of tonnes of polished marble, there is a resident power designed to impress and command all those who pass through the doors more than any other: the organ.

Hidden in plain site it commands the very air, the massive volumes of space granted to it bent to its will. One cannot help being moved in its presence. Hesitantly the duo, Romain and Greg, cross the threshold into its domain, with “Egregore” filled with wary and veiled drones that warn the entrant of the power that will be granted to them upon approach. “Marsyas (Ad Lib)” and its Eastern fluted anxiety continue in fear, the flute a quick fingered and edgy affair, intimately human in its breathy alertness.

At first we’re only allowed to sit before it in “The Harvest”, its slow pressured drones a continuous imposition on the psyche, an insistent grind on the senses, the calling card of religion. Despite its choral hints and singular drone it doesn’t turn me from secularity, but one can’t help but feel humble in the face of its restrained power. Elsewhere in “Opaque Mirror” as we join the crowd and dip our hands in the font, the organ opposes us indirectly, carrying with it chorals from within some inner sanctum. Dry and morose, it reminds us of the one-sidedness of our interaction with the sound, much like the unerring silence of the God they worship, the music unloaded upon us with expectation but no space for reciprocation.

Saåad litter reminders throughout the record that, despite appearances, this instrument of God is still corporeal, still physical, still commanded by human touch. “Incarnat I: Subérn” beats with biomechanical throbbings, some mysterious heart to the machine thumping away as the wind and rain blow against the walls of its confinement. It grumbles and groans as it powers down, eerily human in its laboured movement to rest. “Incarnat II: 1888” further enhances the perception of physicality, ladders creaking under human limbs, a sense of presence within the machine, flesh nestled within its folds, the power it instils designed and commanded by man.

It is he who controls, the unseen priest: “Incarnat III: Invisible Steeple” sees the conclusion of mass, the church bells tolling out of sight above us somewhere, ringing out to the masses filing out, their murmurations carrying easily by the unforgiving acoustics. The soft drone reverie and choral suggestions that seem thankful and celebrational at first turn black, growling and thrumming with a speechless menace, a warning of disobedience and sin. Return to reality, it hums, but remember the consequences of your actions before God, a very human message carried on the air.

And then there is the closer, “Vorde”. “Become”. In all its magnanimous drones, the endless filling of space and the saturation of the senses as it stretches out in almost impossibly sustained notes, a question lingers: who is becoming whom? Or what? Are those in attendance becoming closer to God? Is the organist becoming the machine, or the machine the organist? Does the instrument become Godlike through its manifestations? Despite all the power lent to it, none of it matters to the piped instrument.