Willie Reviews Kali Malone’s “The Sacrificial Code”

Willie Reviews Kali Malone’s “The Sacrificial Code”


Organist and composer Kali Malone’s The Sacrificial Code is the latest of her recordings that take the organ in new directions. It’s a slow-moving journey toward something unknowable, and it’s hard to stop listening. Don’t hesitate to curl up inside the organ and be silent for a few hours. RPM’s review:

I listened to The Sacrificial Code on the bus, and more than once I snatched my phone to make sure it wasn’t ringing. “No,” I reminded myself. It’s just the organ. Then, I listened at home and was surprised by the real presence of the oily rumbling, but reassured myself it was nothing out of the ordinary. Actually, it was a lawnmower rolling past my window. My ears betrayed me, possibly because this music contains deep layers of frequencies. To clarify, this is organ music—longform, buzzy instrumentals composed and performed by Kali Malone. The end product is a slate largely clear of debris. She made every effort to sweep aside twigs and leaves from the surface of the grinding sound. This sterile workspace allows us listeners an uncomfortable amount of liberty. This includes the freedom to guess, consider, and wander along long trails of thought. Ideally, however, we give it up.

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The notes for the album refer to Steve Reich’s idea of throwing all extraneous, momentary thoughts aside and freeing ourselves in the process. Malone endeavors to rid the music of wispy improvisations and notions, which starts with the pipe organ itself. We hear its textures from practically inside the pipes. The lowest notes on “Sacer Profane,” for example, whirl around the barrel of the pipe as they come out, resonating in a way that stresses the flexibility of the tone, but also the consistency that ultimately becomes clear. The organ isn’t manipulated, but it sounds like a synthesizer, perhaps because organ recordings so often include evidence of the performer. By burying the sound inside the instrument, the pieces assert no author and the only flourishes are its natural resonances.

The actual compositions (which may well have been designed 1000 years ago and never changed out of stubbornness) begin to teach the listener the music’s internal logic. As in lots of exceptional ambient music, the listener’s thoughts progress from “Will it go up or down here?” to “I know the next six chords, and I accept it.” With so much time between chord changes and with the physical weight they carry (like dropping a sack of sawdust), each change is anticipated. But once you learn the direction, you’re disciplined to stop expecting change. The insistence is introduced on “Spectacle of Ritual,” which is a perfect repeated loop. The compositions are not always symmetrical, but it’s no coincidence that the first track lays down strict structural expectations.

Kali Malone, photo by A.M. Rehm

Descending another level, the chord changes themselves are unique instances. Any new chord tends to preserve an element of the previous one, creating a sloping progression rather than jarring one. This might be in part to disguise the organ’s tendency to expose any false starts, but mostly it enhances the sacred nature of the music. On the pieces that use circular narratives, this method gives a snake-eating-its-own-tail type confusion. On pieces like “Fifth Worship II,” it’s the forward progress that is diminished. Malone continually rises, but each step is slight and almost unnoticeable. It’s reminiscent of the trick that makes a Shepard tone work, but in reverse. Instead of providing the illusion of rising, but actually staying static, it gives the illusion of staying static, but actually rising. This is not to say it’s going to trick an active listener, only that if you’re blindly following the current of the piece, you may look around and fail to recognize your surroundings.

I should mention that this album comes in at almost two hours. It is very much an album for some undefined form of worship, and you’ll know when exactly you should listen to it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. The songs’ titles are coded as something between Christianity, cult, and paganism, but the music is big enough to contain all those associations and more. So, again, it’s a flat plain upon which you can lie for a while (one hour and forty-six minutes).

Score: A rich 132.0 Hz tone.