At the close of an organ concert in early February, Kali Malone, performing at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, did something unusual: She turned off the instrument’s motor while she and Stephen O’Malley of the doom-metal group Sunn 0))), held down the keys. For nearly three minutes, as the air drained from the organ’s 5,000-odd pipes, the pair’s rich chords turned spectral as they faded to silence, wheezing and wavering, like a chorus of sleepy ghosts.
The finale was a striking example of the way that Malone, 29, is rethinking the pipe organ for a contemporary context. Born in Colorado but based for more than a decade in Stockholm and Paris, she has emerged as an unusually versatile star of the avant-garde.
In a video interview last month, Malone reflected on the path that led to her new album, “All Life Long,” a contemplative 78-minute suite for organ, brass quintet and chamber choir. She thinks of her early work — microtonal software creations that could run for hours — “as my cave man music,” she said. “It’s still exactly what I’m doing now, just my tools have become more sophisticated.”
Malone’s fondness for drones hardly makes her a one-note composer. Before her 2019 breakout album, “The Sacrificial Code” — nearly two hours of minimalist, minutely textured organ studies — she was part of a shoegaze trio, conducted an ensemble playing the work of the “deep listening” pioneer Pauline Oliveros, and recorded strings and gongs in a decommissioned nuclear reactor. She flexed her compositional muscles on “Living Torch,” an electroacoustic work created for the Acousmonium, a multichannel setup developed in the 1970s at Groupe de Recherche Musicales, or GRM, in Paris.
“There is something both spiritual and almost tactile in the way that she creates music,” François J. Bonnet, director of GRM, said in an email. “She charts her own personal and inspired path — a path influenced by almost nothing, and not the product of cultural trends or zeitgeist.”
Malone began blazing her own trail early. Her parents split when she was a child; her father lived in the High Rockies, while Malone moved with her mother to Denver, where she was shuttled to and from choir practice by her grandparents. “I became a teenager when I was 10,” she said. “I grew up so fast, and didn’t have a lot of supervision.”
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