WIRE Magazine

Houston's pan-faith Rothko Chapel has inspired several musical works, notably Morton Feldman's piece of the same name. I visited the chapel in 1996, a magical experience I'll never forget. In the hour or so my girlfriend and I spent there, only one other person came in, and we were able to lose ourselves in the tranquility of the naturally lit space and the great, static, ineffable blocks of color. 
All this amounts to an admission that I feel inexcusably proprietorial towards Rothko's last canvasses. My vision of how to represent/respond to them in sound is going to affect my reaction to anyone else's. Mural - Jim Denley (various wind instruments), Kim Myhr (12-string guitar, zither) and Ingar Zach (percussion) - have recorded there previously, and in 2011 they returned to play for four hours plus a coda, eventually omitting the first section from the recording. 
They clearly love and respect the paintings, but sometimes their sonic reactions seem to busy, especially early on the first CD («Second hour»). And yet, concentrate on small areas of the canvasses and there is movement: flickering, unpredictable changes which Mural reflect. If I heard this performance out of context I'd thoroughly embrace it.
A compelling culmination, the third disc («Fourth Hour») begins with sparse, tentative, crystalline sounds. Soon, oceanic low register crecendi engulf you - just as those giant swathes of apparently monochromatic paint absorb you - until suddenly you are through to the other side, a serene world where you float alongside airy, gently pulsating tones, plaintive scratched string patterns and half-heard activity glimpsed in the corner of your ear.
Here, as elsewhere, Zach makes substantial, effective use of the gran cassa (a bass drum on which the vibrations of the head are electronically fed back, sustaining the sound and allowing control of decay rates and feedback), though his insistent throbbing on the second disc («Third hour») feels inappropriate. When that fades into the background, this piece, which opens with arresting, keening sax calls, is pervaded by mysterious brumous timbres, with fine work from Myhr. The coda evokes visions of a submerged landscape.