Review: Howard Stelzer – Fever Song (self-released, Dec 30)

Howard Stelzer’s single track release Fever Song was assembled “in secret” during the latter months of 2019, finally completed after the Massachusetts based schoolteacher and sound artist recovered from a nasty bout of pneumonia. Stelzer says: “As soon as my fever lifted, I was so grateful to be able to do the things I usually do (like being able to concentrate on a task for more than a few minutes at a go, or walk from one side of my house to the other, or carry on a conversation with my wife) that I returned to this album right away and ironed it out rather quickly.” So many elements of this excerpt from the album’s description translate well into analysis of it; like many of Stelzer’s compositions, “Fever Song” is built around patient drones, but the sustained textures and tones he utilizes here are not somber or dull, instead always climbing with radiant vigor to further heights, brighter patches of light. Our fever breaks and we see an opening in the shroud of sickness, an escape toward which we desperately claw and climb. “Fever Song” is also a celebration of not only the everyday, but also the patience to appreciate the everyday. The piece could have been shorter, of course, but it isn’t; Stelzer carefully constructs spans of controlled noise to allow for the barest amount of progression, allowing meditative stretches to become illusions of stasis, sonic monoliths in which we lose ourselves until the subtle developments become impossible to ignore or the rug is yanked from under our feet. And finally, I love the use of the phrase “iron out” to describe the process of finishing “Fever Song”; it appeals to both the work’s recognition of the value of the mundane as well as Stelzer’s pragmatic approach to music-making. And even some of the drones feel as though they’ve been ironed; trivial materials forcefully pressed into gorgeous, unified slabs of sound.