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March 31, 2014 / robinswood

On Earl MacDonald’s “Where Thinking Leaves Off”

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After letting Earl MacDonald know that I’d published a post recommending his latest album Mirror of the Mind, he sent me a word of thanks and suggested I must be interested in something he’d published on his own blog regarding what to my ears is one of the most engaging and challenging pieces on the album, “Where Thinking Leaves Off.” I highly recommend that listeners check out that blog entry, titled “In Response To My Critics,” as it not only offers some really important comments on the way in which critics often approach a new record (“without reading the press release, liner notes, band description and other written materials prepared to coincide with the album’s release”), but it also gives the listener the most extraordinary inside look at what makes this piece tick.

“Where Thinking Leaves Off” was written after reading Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and depicts the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, told in the biblical book of Genesis (chapters 17:1 – 18:15, 21:1 – 7, 22:1 -18). The title comes from a Kierkegaard quote, “faith begins where thinking leaves off.” Emotionally potent content saturates every scene, spanning Isaac’s miraculous birth to geriatric parents, to Abraham nearly sacrificing his son on an alter. The contrasts, tensions and emotions make for a fertile improvisational playground.

I was particularly struck by his challenge to try listening to the piece with his graphic composition score in hand, which I’ve just now done. A piece that I already found really compelling has now been given new depth and meaning, but of course I’ve got a serious soft spot for engaging a musician’s work with his or her vision firmly in view. Yet another good reason to cherish liner notes, and to lament the passing of easily available hard copies of recordings packaged with care and real attention to detail.

 

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