Aquarelle: Sung in Broken Symmetry
Students of Decay

Following upon the previous releases Of Memory and Momentum (Remedios, 2007) and Slow Circles (Rest and Noise, 2009), Sung In Broken Symmetry, available digitally and in a vinyl pressing of 300 (the first 50 on clear vinyl), is the latest chapter in Ryan Potts' still-developing Aquarelle opus. Ably assisted by cellist Brandon Wiarda on two tracks, the now Toronto-based Potts uses electric and acoustic guitars, effects pedals, and percussion elements to generate four long-form settings of bold soundscaping design. If there's one thing that separates Aquarelle's latest collection from others within the genre, it's the monumental nature of the album's sound. Like Tim Hecker, Potts isn't shy about unleashing torrents of noise and neither is he averse to allowing moments of sweetness and melancholy to flower amidst the carnage and distortion.

“With Verticals” opens the album with a loud flourish, indicating that Sung In Broken Symmetry will be no wallflower collection of microsound character. An aura of stateliness pervades the piece, with Wiarda's cello managing to just barely be heard amidst Potts' immense, rippling smears of fuzz and crackle until the storm briefly subsides, just long enough for string and organ tones to be heard in all their clarity. A sound so large and impenetrably thick is impossible to ignore, and the insistently shimmering piece retains its towering stature even during its quieter, less texture-heavy episodes. When “A Strange Sweet Woe” begins with a gentle classical passage, one thinks the piece might offer a quiet respite from the intensity of the opener, but that notion is quickly laid to rest when a molten slab of industrial churn rolls in and lodges itself into position with immovable force. “Origin” finds immense crackling masses covering every inch of visible territory, until an elephantine moan—Wiarda's cello, perhaps?—fights through the dense material to make itself heard. Potts resists the idea of closing the album with the restorative calm that a pastoral setting would bring, even if a few moments of plucked guitar figures suggests it might head in that direction. Instead, “The Blue Light Was My Baby” seethes with volcanic force, its noise material pitched so loudly it easily surpasses the aggressive level set by the material before it. One could perhaps read the gesture as a declaration of independence by Potts, as his way of declaring that no one should confuse his music with someone else's.

Yes, the obvious and most immediate points of reference are Tim Hecker and Fennesz, but it would do Potts' music a disservice to suggest it's little more than a second-hand imitation of work others have created before him. If anything, Sung In Broken Symmetry, a confident collection of uncompromising yet nevertheless harmonious and always listenable material, captures Potts establishing himself as an electronic sound sculptor in his own right.

September 2011