Poiesis is the 4th release by Bassist/Multi-Instrumentalist Chris Block. Pox has been one of his ongoing projects since the 90’s.
So, right off the bat…Chris is the original bassist for Chicago’s Cheer-Accident. Yes, for those familiar with C-A it will be fairly easy to draw lines from them forward to Poiesis. But let’s end that right here! As great and diverse Cheer-Accident’s music is…and make no mistake, it really is great and diverse, Poiesis, at the end of the day is definitely its own thing.
Poiesis, as it relates to philosophy (this definition from Donald Polkinghorne) is (from the ancient Greek), “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before.” The word can also be used across other disciplines like:
- Allopoiesis, a process whereby a system can create something other than itself.
- Autopoiesis, the ability of a system to recreate itself.
- Mythopoeia, the act of creating a contrived mythology.
- Sympoiesis, collectively producing systems that do not have self-defined spatial or temporal boundaries
Ok, so thanks Wikipedia, we (or at least “I”) now have a grasp on the word. Where does this take us regarding Poiesis?
Besides the obvious, i.e., the music on Poiesis germinated and gestated within Block’s frontal cortex, (with or without input from the other artists credited, I don’t know this), one can say, well of course it did. But maybe there are other ways of looking at this.
It seems to me that the term “poiesis”, the very act of creation draws possible parallels to other forms of rarified “high art” in today’s culture and society. Art forms like classical music, sculpture, and poetry are all considered “high art” throughout history, and all can arguably be thought of as being created by a divine process of “poiesis”. Creating beauty through sound, form, and words…an act of poiesis.
But Poiesis is a rock album. Is rock music high art? I think not (as I stroke my goatee, clean my horn-rimmed glasses and light my pipe)! Surely, rock music is created for the masses, the great unwashed. How dare you think it should reach the level of creativity and artistic merit to qualify as “high art”. STONE THE HEATHENS!!!
Well…wouldn’t it be daft if the music on Poiesis is Block’s way of creating (by the process of some new, bastardized form of poiesis) a kind of future high art? Does Block know something we don’t? In 100 years will there be 10,000-word scholarly dissertations written about Poiesis? Hmmmm…one never knows, do they?
Luckily though, the tuneage on this album, at least for our “low art” ears…smokes! This is a completely overused comparison, but the first two tracks, “Axiom of Lies” and “The Scholl Index” carry a 1970’s King Crimson vibe that is spot on. The segue between these two songs is special but anything else I say about that would be spoilers, you’ll want to clap though.
Many times, when I hear someone tell me that such and such sounds like KC in their 70’s prime I almost always dismiss it immediately. Been there, done that…what else ya gots? These two cuts though…there seems to be an energy of sorts that delivers honest, sincere, and exquisitely fresh authenticity to the music.
The guitars (courtesy of Scot Ashley and Block himself) on these tracks (and throughout the whole album) are shot up with a crispy, crunchy, brittle rhythmic attack that would actually make Bob Fripp smile! The soloing is a different animal…while still being RF infused, there is something more about them… perhaps in the British 70’s psych realm, but that’s not quite it either. What the guitar solos achieve is a vibe shift that changes the whole nature of the space. Totally refreshing!
Now might be a good time to talk about the overall sound environment on this album. It’s really, REALLY small. Yeah, not compressed, but small. It sounds like the band is playing in a small space where all the acoustic material is miniaturized. The thing is you can hear everything…the separation and detail are outstanding. Nothing is abstracted down or buried, it’s a very wide soundstage. It reminded me of a Bob Drake recording or mastering job where things sound lo-fi at first blush, but you come to realize it’s all very hi-fi.
As the album progresses, the strong KC references start to fade, and the selection becomes quite varied. Doug Ackman’s mysteriously delivered vocals provide the requisite “wyrd” in the Wyrd Folk atmospheres of “Combine” and when the band goes full “electric”, his vocals are often treated in ways that conjure infrared radio transmissions from the Webb.
The keyboards deserve some attention here as well. There are many moments of mellotron-esque orchestral patches scattered around. Daniel Burke (Illusion of Safety) is credited with “synphonic orchestra” and Block also chips in with some well-mixed piano chops.
As mentioned, the variation throughout the album is high. The mood shifts go from white-hot to pastoral and back again with many stops in between. The drumming (by Jim Widlowski and Jef Bek) is incredibly tight and there is a great vocal piece (Continuum) by C-A member Laura Boton.
Overall, the density level on Poiesis is high. It takes a few listens to appreciate all the little details within and the high-level tightness and creative musicianship from all. I think the album would go down well with both the adventurous “avant-prog” aficionado and low art commoner. If poiesis is a sublime metamorphosis, then Poiesis demonstrates the act quite well. Talk to me in 100 years.