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Review for Liberation of Dissonance by Bruce Bond

Liberation of Dissonance (Schaffner Press, 2022) strikes a balance between forte and piano, legato and staccato – the Italian markers dictating musical dynamics.

Liberation of Dissonance (Schaffner Press, 2022) strikes a balance between forte and piano, legato and staccato – the Italian markers dictating musical dynamics.

The collection is at once powerful and explosive, yet characterized by moments of softness and light. Bruce Bond is a master conductor, knowing just when to raise the tempo or lower the volume, when to play the notes as smoothly connected or as crisp and detached as possible. Bond gives us a song of the zither, of young Ludwig Beethoven weeping at the clavier, of climate change and war. Of panic, silence, and the passage of light needing a place to fall. Of oceans, icebergs and constellations. Nothing of our natural world seems off limits.

“And the music is enormous, frightening in its beauty” (“The Arctic Variations”). Music touches everything. Donald Revell writes in his preface that Bruce Bond comes to “know the condition of music in this world, and in this world now.” The impressions are immediate and countless, speaking of a visceral knowledge that attends to the sound of “constellations breaking down” (“Verklärte Nacht”). Stars literally pulled apart, and spaces carved out between the notes themselves: “the lost between the ivories like a fallen pair of keys” (“Monk”). Revell calls it “a liberation of dissonance from the myth of harmony.” To have one, you need the other.

We could liken Bond to the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who rejected negative-light sculpture because of its reliance on the shadows. He instead chose positive-light sculpture, which presents a purely reflective surface that provides an invisibility of surface like that of still waters, whose presence can be detected only when objects – a tree, the mountains, a ship’s hull – are reflected in them. In Bond’s poetry we see reflected a number of things. For one, language and music representing an ache to connect – to the music, to each other. Bond relates Ornette Coleman’s introduction to his plastic sax, which he discovers in a pawnshop: “How strong it was, and is. This will to connect” (“Wolves”).

And how does music relate to language? Music is “a language for no language, a pulse / beneath the skin of words, the compulsory / insistence of a chisel breaking stone” in the spirit of “making something out of nothing,” for “the first drum was nothing we would call a drum, nothing until we heard it.” (“Measure”). We have to know something before we can call it by name. We also see reflected in this poem an origin story, how the “world’s first instrument was time,” how “night after night / God’s Ocean beats its measures in the dark.” This rhythm best measured in silence, language and air, in passing expectation.

The collection ends with “The Arctic Variations,” in which we see a reference to who I think is the musician Ludovico Einaudi: “Somewhere / the oldest cliffs are coming down in sheets / where a man on an ice floe plays piano.” A remarkable image that paints man against the backdrop of global warming. “The music that you hear is the warmest year on record. I learned that today.” Music flooding the ice sheets that are melting too quickly, forcing us to pay attention. But, will we?

“Dear ice, when I think of you, / I think of this. I see you as a place just north / of north. When I think of life after life, a planetary / furnace blows a phantom through the ocean / floor.” And music is there to witness it all.


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Katy Dycus Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Katy now lives in Madrid, Spain. When she isn't teaching, hiking, or laughing with friends, she's probably writing for the anthropology journal Mammoth Trumpet. Or looking for the perfect avocado.