Marcus Fischer
The Crow






Portland-based Marcus Fischer makes his second appearance on Kate Carr’s Flaming Pines label after his contribution Willamette River for the Rivers Home series in 2011 and dedicates another long composition of 19+ minutes to the Birds Of A Feather collection, a compilation of bird-related releases that unites the label’s important columns: birds, nature, man. Fischer’s artifact is an especially portentous one as it turns out. Released in June 2013 in a limited edition of 100 three-inch CD’s, he has dedicated his tune to the shadiest of all birds, the fear of all farmers, the herald of evil and misery: the crow. The release is hence fittingly called The Crow, but Fischer’s relation to this bird is a noble one and could have potentially led to a title such as The Pair Of Crows. The artist himself states in the release notes that "my family and I have made friends with a pair of crows. This particular pair sits on the telephone wires above our street and waits for us to come home. They watch us and we watch them. We've learned that they will caw four times to request food." The prospect is thus set, and it differs strikingly from the listener’s allusions. Everyone has heard a story or two about crows, their intelligence and cheekiness, uncanny physiognomy and the cultural implications that could almost be called denotative indicators whenever the word crow appears. The front artwork astutely touches upon every desirable cliché on anyone’s checklist of this particular bird. But Fischer does not care. It is his task to unite the listener with the preconceptions and prejudices regarding this species, at least during the timespan of almost 20 minutes. Having recorded his piece simultaneously inside and outside his studio, with a microphone close to the pair of crows, The Crow reunites the grainy haze of his full-length debut Monocoastal (12k, 2010) with purified acoustic guitar melodies of the mellow kind, related drone structures and the ominous birds. Believe me: bewilderment ensues, but it is of the encouraging, approving kind, and as the piece progresses, so does the listener’s insight.


The quiddity of The Crow is rooted in Dark Ambient, an averment that seems superfluous in terms of the given topic, but proves to carry a maximum of inaccuracy. Indeed, Marcus Fischer’s dedication to the commonest of all black birds launches with a delicately dull, greyish field recording of cracking branches, nebulous breezes and the strident yet distant cawing of the pair of fowls whose reverberated way of representation only adds depth to the already omnipresent plasticity. The rate of the brutish screams continues, other crows join the fun, and if it weren’t for the short shouts of joy of Fischer’s daughter in these surroundings as well as the apposition of other species of birds, The Crow would have transformed Portland’s domestic streets into an entirely believable eldritch marshland. One minute into the potentially oxymoronic pristine diffusion, another important layer slowly unfolds, gradually changing both the gestalt and timbre of the scenery, and that is Fischer’s acoustic guitar drones. They emanate a sylphlike luminosity of warmth that functions as a designed counterpoint to the quasi-eerie drabness, its aura hued in golden-orange colors. The guitar is not heavily processed, its complexion and characteristic traits incessantly familiar to the listener. However, the scenery remains translucent and wondrously dichotomous: as plinking, perspicuous and placid the guitar licks are, their balmy brightness does not spawn detailed images, especially not at the presence of the gently softened field recording.


Fischer’s denial of an intelligibly carved out diorama is only a flaw to those listeners who want a sort of carefully edited or adjusted realness as prominently found in Chris Watson’s Weather Report (2003). However, the Portland-based sound sculptor chooses a different approach. By the means of his nostalgia layering technique, he is able to transfigure this otherwise perfectly real happenstance. The guitar sequences are delightfully good-natured and felicitous, between the cusp of each twang resides a genteel stream of bliss. Once this placenta is firmly in place, the exterior noises wane, an encapsulation process takes place which only allows the pink noise of the outside world to permeate this place of shelter. It is all the more poignant, almost to a Poe-etic degree, that there is one pair of animals which is easily able to cut through the densely layered cavalcade of sun-soaked guitar chords, with their omnipresence thankfully harmless yet adamantly observant and vigilant: the crows. While the bird in Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous poem is a raven, both crows and ravens belong to the same species called Corvidae, so in the end, the listener is advised to take the looming presence of the titular bird as an all-seeing, highly intelligent apparition that remains in the limelight and center of the sphere of action even when it is presumably gone or out of sight. Perseverance wins.


More than seven minutes into the soundscape, Marcus Fischer injects white noise gales which twirl peacefully in adjacency to the guitar’s bucolic effulgence. Added crackles and clicks complete the entanglement for the time being. While these devices further cover or camouflage the impetus of the background noise – after all, the exterior microphone is still literally capturing every flap –, the crows even tower above the elysian sound structures and melodies made in the studio. Everything feels laid-back, complete, positively streamlined and whitewashed, and it thus depends on the listener whether he or she interprets the reoccurring caws as markers of intelligence, doom or pestilence. The latter terms are admittedly far away and less often considered in an enlightened society, but could indeed be applied in consideration of the rich cultural intertwinements related to this bird. And indeed, a final supplementation carries a slice of this weight; Fischer integrates a crystalline guitar-based ethereality next to the thermal heat, its incisive drone nature is partially gentle, but also seems to hide an enigmatic riddle, a deeper arcanum. With all these counteracting and even incompatible strata and airflows forming The Crow’s helix, the composition ends with a veridical apotheosis. Seraphic, almost choir-esque beams of light brighten up the whole construction, wash over the listener and slowly vesiculate into the fade-out phase, calcining swiftly and leaving a nullity behind that is as black as the plumage of a crow.


Marcus Fischer’s The Crow mercilessly circumvents the expectation of the listening subject and lets it ponder. The grey artwork, the sinister physiognomy of the birds which are completely draped in blackness as well as the long history of man’s encounters with these creatures is deeply engraved into the subconscious and at the same time universally accepted in Occidental cultures. This 19+ minutes long composition from Portland is the opposing artifact, rescinding the fears, hatred, or worse, lack of interest in these animals. Kate Carr’s Birds Of A Feather cycle of releases might be precise and clearly refined, with each artist dedicating a song to a specific bird, but Fischer’s choice implies a particularly strong burden due to the cultural implications. Consequentially, the artist makes a U-turn, letting diametrically opposite ingredients mesh. The crispness of the field recording is only the beginning. The cawing sounds scary and dissonant but is soon enough coated in warm acoustic guitar drones. Everything feels serene, complete, positively streamlined and limewashed, and it thus depends on the listener whether he or she interprets the reoccurring caws as markers of intelligence, doom or pestilence. The latter terms are admittedly far away and less often considered in an enlightened society, but could indeed be interpreted as such, considering the rich cultural intertwinements of this bird. That the Fischer family made friends with the pair of crows is a maudlin addendum to the presentation, but an inadvertently extrinsic factor that is only tangentially implied in this arrangement via the soothing peacefulness that reigns together with the birds. The simultaneity of a field recording and an accompanying or additional layer of music has been heard many times before, but here in Marcus Fischer’s The Crow, the ensuing polysemy is a wake-up call and adds much weight to the atmosphere. It is an enjoyable peace, definitely dreamy and lucid, and this is the base all Drone fans can agree upon. As for the majestic attendance of the crows? Here the diversion kicks in and makes this entry in the Birds Of A Feather reservoir an excitingly ambiguous one.



Further listening and reading:




Ambient Review 224: Marcus Fischer – The Crow (2013). Originally published on Jun. 5, 2013 at