“Intensity” might not be the first adjective—or, for that matter, the 50th—that comes to mind regarding Please Stop Loving Me, by Chicago composer Nicholas Szczepanik. A one-track, 48-minute drone for organs and electronics, the piece slowly wobbles between a few chords, with interlaced long tones falling into and through one another in massive horizontal waves. It’s never aggressive or distorted, never busy making any overly obvious attempts to walk that sacred instrumental-music line between beauty and brutality. It simply moves in euphonic arcs for the better part of an hour, like the world’s best, biggest tabernacle choir slowly singing a canon of chords during Wednesday-night rehearsal.
But Please Stop Loving Me constantly tests its own limits, with Szczepanik gradually shifting the volume until his various chords grow almost too loud or too quiet. Each swell feels like an exhortation; each trough suggests a concomitant collapse. Beneath those major movements, the sounds seem to be battling, opposing forces fighting for space and sight. More than a simple wash of pleasantries, Please Stop Loving Me is intense and dramatic; both qualities are simply, smartly understated.
Please Stop Loving Me isn’t a reinvention of any sort. Brian Eno, Jim O’Rourke, Chris Watson, Keith Fullerton Whitman, and Eliane Radigue use the same standards of control, patience, and precision. Still, somehow, in spite of its tonal torpor and clear precedents, Please Stop Loving Me sounds vital and personal, a rarified drone that seems less like an exercise in escape or an instance of academia than like a necessary, urgent transmission.