Numen: Thanos Chrysakis and Wade Matthews

12/06/2012

Numen [49:19] is a 2012 release on Aural Terrains. Here we have laptop and electronics from Thanos Chrysakis, digital synthesis and field recordings from Wade Matthews. The pair have played together in a variety of outfits and combinations over the years as well as in their own solo projects. Their collective music is characterised above all by a highly developed sense of originality, inventiveness and what I’d call an irrepressible investigation into ever new combinations of sound sources. It also steers away from what I’d call an academic acousmatic idiom, largely through the use of humour in the choice of field recordings, animal sounds, vocal intrusions and the like and in the deliberate avoidance of ‘development’ in the historico-musical sense that a sonata develops previously introduced material. Any development to be found is reserved for the longer pieces, where a feeling of intensity emerges as part of the pacing and of the ebb and flow of the work.

There are six pieces, ranging in duration from less than three minutes to seventeen minutes, each adopting a characteristic approach to sound creation which leans towards the gestural and the linear. By gestural I mean that the sounds are clearly tailored, shaped and presented, each is distinctive and in general distinguishable from the other. By linear I mean that the texture is one where sounds come and go, either contrasting with or blending in well with neighbouring sounds. Any polyphonic or contrapuntal textures are clear yet incidental to the procession of highly wrought sounds. There is no focus on a deep investigation of morphology or density.

With this in mind any discussion would naturally settle on the kinds of sounds that the artists have created, digitally or otherwise, or selected, in the case of field recordings. It’s here, in my opinion, that the deepest appreciation of the album will lie. I should stress that what Chrysakis and Matthews have achieved here requires a high level of musical and technical skill. I’ve had to endure some truly horrible work which would seem to rely on throwing a bunch of gestures together from a range of acoustic and electronic instruments in the hope that something vaguely contemporary results. On first listening I thought (and was surprised, knowing the artists’ work as well as I do) that Numen was woven from a similar cloth. But, setting aside my personal taste in timbral matters, on subsequent auditions it becomes clear that many of the sounds are beautifully crafted, even deeply sensual in places, that the combinations are rigorously selected in terms of offering contrasts in frequency range, shape and movement. And all improvised to boot. This is an album that deserves close listening on a good sound system, many times over.

I’ve noticed from previous work a preference for metallic timbres and indeed these are foregrounded in several of the pieces. Track 4 in particular presents a highly effective contrast between chime and bell timbres on the one hand and churning watery sounds on the other. Of all the individual pieces this one in particular hints at some sort of timbral development. Track 5 offers similar fare at about five minutes in. The other notable feature is the manner in which electronics, digital synthesis and field recordings are brought together. None dominates the sound field, leaving the listener with an impression of integritysimilar to that found in a well balanced chamber ensemble.

Finally, the aforementioned recommended close listening will uncover the fact that very few if any of the sounds are hackneyed (meaning trite, dull or stereotyped). This is partly due to the artists’ attention to detail and largely due to the deployment of a high degree of inventiveness which can be heard at every level, from the boldest foregrounded sound to the subtlest background murmur.

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