Acclaimed Irish composer Rory Pierce's new album Fog Line Tree Line is a work inspired by time immersed in nature while walking the Pacific Crest Trail through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. A suite for cello, piano and electronics, the project was transcribed and recorded at the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California and at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.
Here, Rory Pierce writes about the musical journey to Fog Line Tree Line - you can also listen to the work below.
In a literal way, the first steps on the journey to composing this album were made trekking the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. I was feeling the need for vast empty spaces and resounding peace, somewhere to reconnect with myself and to rejuvenate my mind with some untouched natural beauty. The writings of John Muir on communion with these wilderness landscapes had been enticing me for some time, and so I took these first steps. Manuscript in hand.
“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.” - John Muir
Being alone in the wilderness was unsettling (at points actually scary!) but deeply rewarding: falling asleep gazing up into the clearest three-dimensional spray of stars imaginable, or waking to light a fire and quietly watch the warm light of dawn creep across the peaceful land. So many moments like these brought fragments of melodies or certain chord changes into my head… it felt magical to be interacting with the land in this way.
With my dictaphone and manuscript book I took note of any musical ideas which came into my head, without any judgement or editing. I knew I could do all the editing later, and I just wanted to stay present with the ever-changing landscapes. My walk took me from the hot dry desert, filled with Joshua trees, to the snow covered peaks of Yosemite. Every day brought me through new worlds… Sequoia forests, frozen lakelands, canyons, high barren plateaus. My Dictaphone and manuscript book did not take long to fill up – these are extremely inspiring landscapes.
The initial editing of the ideas took place in Big Sur a few months after the walk, when I did a cat-sitting stint for a friend in a simple but beautiful wooden house in the Redwoods, halfway up a hill, looking out over the Pacific. I was able to look out at that expanse of water and flesh out some of the better ideas. Most of the ideas sounded overly simple and naïve when taken out of those giant spaces (and rightfully went straight into the bin!) but soon I found a handful of better ideas to get working on.
Golden days - some mornings were spent working in the farm & garden at the Esalen Institute, a mile down the road, and the rest of the time was spent sitting up in the house working on the music, looking over the ocean. I told the crew at Esalen jokingly that I was writing Music To Watch Whales By as at the time the ocean was full Humpbacks heading south to Baja. Actually in truth the album that I ended up with might serve that purpose very well.
The final editing and recording took place at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre the following spring, when I booked three weeks to use the Composer’s Room there to finish the album. I have seldom worked as hard as I did during my time there. Up and at it at 6am, pausing during the day only to refresh my mind with a swim in the lake or a walk around the wooded country lanes. I’ve heard many others say that the atmosphere at the Guthrie Centre is conducive to extremely focused work, and it certainly allowed me to re-imagine the spaces I had walked through and to try translate some of those indescribable landscapes and feelings into music.
Hopefully the album will conjure up some images of landscapes and reflective spaces for the listener too.
Rory Pierce's album Fog Line Tree Line is available now via BandCamp.