Duane Pitre – Omniscient Voices (Important Records, 2021)

Are you happy?

I had a throwaway conversation briefly with someone recently, where I stipulated that life is suffering first and foremost and ultimately a pursuit of fleeting moments of happiness, whereas he contended that it was more the other way around. His view was that we are more creatures of aversion to suffering and life is, for the most part, good or benign at best.

I agreed to disagree since these are two diametrically opposed philosophical views of the world that are pointless to argue over.

But that nagging voice still remains: Are you happy? Am I happy?

You can probably find a reason to be so to prove me instantaneously wrong: I’ve got a second glass of wine to hand for example and I’m listening to Duane Pitre, and I’m thankful for those. I don’t claim to be happy though, in a holistic sense, and unless you live some kind of impossibly charmed life I suspect many would say the same.

I feel this intractable pain, what the Buddhist calls Dukkha (or the Sankhara-dukkha) inherent suffering, is the pillar that holds Omniscient Voices,  a record of typical Pitre minimalism, and deeply organic, innate melancholia. Comprised of a curious blend of piano and spontaneously improvised accompanying electronics, this petite album briefly, but completely, saturates with life’s incessant threatening hum.

Dark and dramatic piano chords emerge thickly from “Messages On Bits of Bone”, timeless poignance that floats on scraping electronic flotsam. Flanging tones bridge the articulate silence betwixt the keys purposefully: life is the same, it’s always been the same. Caveman, Modern Man – not even a line, merely a fixed point.

Impossibly gorgeous “The Rope Behind The Bee” marks the record’s nadir, withdrawn in melancholic twinklings and ethereal drone airs. The piano tugs with barely visible strands of melody, fingers dancing through space to carry and return; subsequently the track slowly retreats, circling into textural singularity, the one rebecoming with the whole.

In many ways it is the closer proper: though following “Homage To Those Before Us” arrives to see us out, its brevity is merely contiguous to its predecessor’s reductionism. Haunted piano lost in thought, lost to thought, lost.

The shape and form of this record is rather different to older, long-form ancestors like The Seeker and the Healer, or my personal favourite Feel Free. The pieces are shorter, more discrete, more explicitly themselves: punctuations in a greater whole. Whether you see them as the moments of suffering in a lifetime of banality, or the continuing existential pain briefly eclipsed by instants of personal gratification, is simply a matter of perspective. Either way it is a beautifully concise and articulated statement.