Let's start with making a distinction: there is a great volume of music that we can work to comprehend, and there is a more elusive body within the body of music that it is best to apprehend. The first, of course, is a conscious understanding; the second, one of emotional understanding more appropriate, perhaps, to sacred works. That Churchscapes fits into the broad category of sacred music is not a point of contention. By performing in the churches of his homeland Fripp aligns with the performance spaces of John Tavener; in Estonia, with the performance spaces of Arvo Pärt. The word "passion" – so readily appropriated by any and every obsessive who feel passion about their dishwashing liquid; while corporations express their passion about your potential and the government watches the dead pile up as Bush presses his culture of life, with presidential passion – has obviously lost the intricacy of the original meaning. With more than one evensong for his rack of Eventides, Fripp remembers that its original meaning is to suffer, to sacrifice – each a key tenet of the Western Canon.
Consequently, the music of Churchscapes dutifully avoids the typically glossy, sunny, enthusiastic or merely derivative excrescences of the Jesus rock (no real chance it would not have, just wanted to use the phrase "the Jesus rock" in here somewhere) and smartly forgoes the current fad for doing whatever you like in the name of, rather than doing what the so-called Namer asks of you. Latent in much of the soundscapes work – in particular "That Which Passes" and "Love Cannot Bear" – Fripp seems to be owning up here that much of the yearning, sorrow and doubt flowing from his fingers belongs to the sacred, or at least his sense of it, instead of solely to the club / small venue auditoriums of the Soundscapes series. Unfortunately, acoustically, Churchscapes does not sound very different than Soundscapes. Comparing this recording with Pärt's "Kanon Pokajanen" recorded down the street at the Niguliste Church would lead the listener to think that the acoustics of the church were not employed in the recording. If true, it is an odd decision to exclude the church acoustics since the soundscape amplification is typically so well-tuned to its environment and since such acoustics have traditionally played such a central role in Western sacred musics. But the fact that these venues are so far outside the popular music and rock streams does both Fripp and the music credit because, driven by the fantastical being of your choice or not, genuine sacred music has managed to set down a rigorous set of specs and traditions that define it perhaps more closely than many other Western forms. What happens with Churchscapes that does not happen with John Tavener or Arvo Pärt is that we now have a composer / performer adding not just contemporary compositional technique and gesture to this genre, but also adding improvisation and technology to the, no pun intended, lexicon of sacred works in direct and immediate ways.
To varying degrees the ten interrelated tracks take the open loop into account, and there is surely no more appropriate or fatalistic system. Fripp is able to voice a number of instruments and there's less a sense of guitar-only here than in other soundscapes. He even seems to quote fragments of "Starless" at one point, then proceeds with the deconstruction of what is one of his purest and most melodic passages into a shimmering intersection of the formed and formless. Other instances reveal a welcome, gapped openness, as plectrum bell-like events coalesce into pattern and are allowed the long declines of Eventide's 80+ second delay lines into absolute and undisturbed silence, making for a fitting resolution to the carefully arc'd complexities that precede. Surely different from the Soundscapes series, but in some ways not quite different enough.
1. Threshold Bells: St. Paul's
2. At The End Of Time: St. Paul's
3. Evensong: Tallinn
4. Evensong Coda: Tallinn
5. At The End Of Time: Broad Chalke
6. Evensong: Viljandi
7. Evensong coda: Viljandi
8. Future Shift: Haapsalu
9. Evensong: Haapsalu
10. Evensong Coda: Haapsalu