Roy Montgomery - Temple IV (1996)

Temple IV stands as a watermark for New Zealand guitarist Roy Montgomery. His fully developed guitar style is stolidly in evidence, as is his lyrical improvisational ability. Temple IV refers to an actual place in Tikal in the Northern Guatemalan rain forest. According to the notes, Montgomery bribed his way onto the site and stayed there an entire night. Most importantly, this album is Montgomery's attempt at grieving a life partner who passed away. He recorded the album during his nine-month stay in New York on East 13th Street. Much of his deeply creative work was recorded during this stay, including "Scenes From a South Island," and a number of his singles. But Temple IV is his crowning achievement of the period. From its long, opening movement of the 12-minute "She Waits on Temple IV," where two subtly psychedelic guitar lines entwine and syncopate each other as both melody and rhythm, while a third plays a chorded accompaniment deep in the background as a support for the other parts; it asserts itself only as a musical accent in the spaces in between lines. The work addresses an encounter -- a meeting -- between Montgomery and something much larger, though undefined: the feeling of approach is everywhere. In "Departing the Body," both the spirit of death and transcendence are underlined. The slow, droning punctuation of chords offer a tunnel-like vision through this clearly haunted piece. There are sounds at the seams of it that are unidentifiable and the motion of wind through the strings at first comes whistling, then howling, as uncontrolled feedback through the mix. It never unsettles the chord progression, but it never relents either. As "The Soul Quietens" begins, a shift takes place; where one form meets another as Montgomery's guitars are muted almost to the point of whispering. The reason soon becomes apparent as he moves the sonic metaphor from death into life again, where the former physical body means less than nothing to its future one. "The Passage of Forms" is the dais on which the album turns: from shape into shapeless; from form into formless; and back into form again. Montgomery pulls out every dynamic effect he has at his disposal, from microtonal triad explorations to overtone lead sequences and semi-quavers masquerading as melody; all of it wrapped in an effects box and wired for an improvisation that counts as much on timing as it does on inspiration. This is truly ghost music, made by a medium through which the world of voiceless sound speaks its name. When the next shape emerges on "Jaguar Meets Snake," all hell breaks loose and feedback fights feedback for domination in the mix. But what takes place after this is the result of the process of musical, spiritual, and bodily transformation -- all held in memory of the creator 5,000 miles from its actual articulation. The disc ends with "Jaguar Unseen": a shimmering piece where the acoustic and electric guitars glisten together in a light body of sound. Tiny little melody lines ring out of the echoes, not completely present, but enough to be made aware of. The lines cascade simply over the chords and slip gradually away into silence and disappearance with only the reverbed effect left to hint at any evidence of a presence at all. Temple IV is literally a work of musical alchemy. It takes personal experience through the awesome -- and awful -- power of memory, and transforms it into a sonic presence that becomes an invisible aural storyteller to the listener's own psychic domain. It haunts; cajoles; taunts; seduces; and even comforts with its use of nuance, timing, and dynamic and opaque shape-shifting elegance. Montgomery, as the interlocutor of the devices by which the muse speaks, is blessed and cursed with the gift of offering it to us. His own personal vision of it all was given him by his muse in the depth of his grief; one dark night of Temple IV.

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