Garnet Skein

07/03/2014

Garnet Skein (49.20)

Released December 2013 on Aural Terrains

TRRN0725

THANOS CHRYSAKIS: laptop computer, synthesizer, radio, gongs | WADE MATTHEWS: digital synthesis & field recordings | JAVIER PEDREIRA : guitar |

This six-track album from Aural Terrains adds to the catalogue of a very successful independent label which offers a fine range of work, from new compositions to free improvisation, by artists such as Thanos Chrysakis and Wade Matthews to name but two. Each piece has its own unique focus and the overall album has the feel of a small chamber ensemble hard at work with a variety of very versatile instruments. Overall the album contains a fine blend of digital and analogue tools. The listener is drawn into the music as a result of uncertainty around whether the music is composed, freely improvised or semi-structured.

Taken as a whole there is a good measure of consistency throughout the album. Its strongest attribute is the clarity of the music – typically each layer is very distinct and the music never dissolves into mush, an ever-present danger in music which adopts this kind of complex gestural layered approach. The clear strands of tracks 1 and 2 for example help the listener to focus on the details of the gestures which in turn point up the freshness of invention.

The variety of sound is never overwhelming and, with one or two exceptions, gives the impression of a very tight trio. Certain techniques are consistent throughout the album, for example figures on a ground, typically to open a piece – distinctive grounds such as the grainy and oscillating movement at the beginning of track 2 or the more indeterminate fundamental layer in track 5 contrasted or complemented by various figures. The hint of arch form in tracks 2 and 4 is very effective adding to the general sense of a strong formal awareness, an episodic approach, which lets the music breathe. Add to this some very tight yet powerful crescendi and diminuendi. Finally there are some admirable passages of restraint which add to the impression of carefully considered musical creation.

Only occasionally do some of the sounds reduce the momentum. For example in track 3 there is a passage of call and response involving pitched material, the sounds of which come over as relatively impoverished by contrast with the preceding and following richness of invention and which seem to be padding out the piece, the longest of the six. However this weaker passage is bookended by two of the best passages in the album – a preceding flowing movement from gong/bells to sines, radio interference and static bursts which transit into electronic noise and feedback amounting to a very successful linear passage of transformation (as opposed to everything piled in together) from instrumental to electronic sound and beyond towards radio voices and possibly field recordings. Then, to finish, some fine crunchy sounds, possibly from a prepared electric guitar, and what sounds like furniture removal in a grain silo.

The weaker passages are very rare and can be set aside because of two specific choices. First the musicians have had the good sense to remain consistent in their choice of idiom, which could be described as gesturally rich, inventive, flowing, smooth, seamless and dynamic with something of the spirit of a well-oiled contemporary jazz ensemble. Only once does the music tip into a more ambient idiom which, if sustained, would have diminished the impact of the album by compromising its consistency. The trio chose however to pick up again on the busy three-piece feel and to emphasise the guitar (never once lame, scratchy or aimless) through to the end. Clever and effective. Secondly, they have avoided exploring musical avenues that can’t be effectively explored at the same time as the gestural processes and track 6 illustrates this by hinting at the potential problem in exploring metallic sounds or more accurately metallic spectra, inharmonicity and overtones – more sound than music. Such in-depth morphological investigations would be far too risky given the trio’s choice of resources. Instead a clever use of form and gestural clarity organises the material to suit its qualities. Some albums hope to achieve textural density and complexity by simply piling it on and it simply ends up being a mess.

Once again Aural Terrains strengthens its reputation as an independent label of original and inventive new music, putting quality above the growing trend of chasing fashionable shadows.

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