Autistici: Attaching Softness

One of the major things that distinguishes Attaching Softness is the sensitivity David Newman (aka Autistici) demonstrates in his handling of the physical materials used to assemble the six tracks. The Sheffield-based composer and Audiobulb overseer exemplifies an especially keen awareness of the musical potential offered by found sounds, and at no time do the pieces feel as if they've been randomly assembled or arbitrarily designed. A clear sense of purpose and direction is evident in the material, in other words, no matter the physical origins of its component parts, and one always senses the presence of a keen governing intelligence in the way a given setting has been layered and sequenced.

On the fifty-minute recording, Newman also draws upon field recordings and exploits the sound possibilities of natural and industrial sources, even ones originating from the human body. Everyday entities such as batteries and radiators become sites of exploration on an album that also features collaborations with Calika and Henry Duclos. Neither is Newman averse to enhancing the real-world elements, as indicated by the synthesizers (or at least what one presumes to be synthesizers) and water-logged piano that dominate the closing moments of the opening two selections.

He isn't precious when it comes to revealing sound sources either, as that opener “Battery Setup in a Forest Clearing” makes clear. But even if he had given the track a less prosaic title, the outdoor sounds of birds and the hum of an engine would have pointed the listener in the appropriate direction anyway. In such a case, the title almost seems like a provocation on Newman's part, as if he's deliberately reminding the listener of the source materials involved in order to appreciate all the more the musical treatment that he's fashioned from them. In nudging the sound design into a comparatively more hermetic zone, “Blanket and Radiator” (the Duclos collaboration) suggests a sojourn into an alien atomic universe where every creak and squeak has been amplified so as to maximize its sonic impact. Elsewhere, Calika's presence is audible during the brief “Blue Stem Sister” in the oddball cut's broken beat funk rhythms.

The album's central track is clearly “Attaching Softness to a Shell,” a twenty-two-minute excursion into an immersive galaxy that also incorporates the work of Professor Andrea Polli, who generated sounds from hurricane-related data. Not surprisingly given the track's duration, the piece unfolds unhurriedly as a series of creeping, slow-motion episodes, some heavily field recordings-oriented and others spacey in their emphasis on synthetic treatments (a baby's woozy cry even surfaces near track's end). If that piece is the one most characterized by meditative exploration, the closing “Meditation on Distance” is arguably the one most focused on an overt musical design, given the way its elements generate insistent rhythmic patterns that at certain moments even begin to assume a rather techno-like character, even if it's techno of a severely mutant kind.

February 2014