Autistici & Justin Varis: Nine
Eilean Records

When they're successful, collaborations catalyze the contributions of each participant into something greater than might have produced by the artist alone. Those involved surrender some degree of individual control in the hope that the interactions with another will reveal previously unexplored directions and lead to artistic breakthroughs, even if relatively modest ones. Such would seem to apply in the case of Nine, a collaboration undertaken by sound artists Autistici (David Newman) and Justin Varis, though it's worth noting that the project was developed long-distance with Newman in Sheffield and Varis 5300 miles away in Los Angeles, California. The release, issued in a limited edition of 180 copies, is a double-CD affair, the first presenting eight tracks by the duo and the second extending the collaboration concept further by featuring eight remixes by spirits kindred to the showrunners: Christopher Hipgrave, Isnaj Dui, Letters! On Sounds, Marcus Fischer, Monty Adkins, offthesky, Pillowdiver, and Wil Bolton.

The partnership between Newman and Varis came about through their mutual associations with Audiobulb Records, the former as the label head and the latter as an artist operating under the alias Claudia. Initially sounds were collected and compiled from field recordings, samples, processed materials, melodic fragments, instrument recordings, and so on, after which the two began exploring the sound possibilities and shaping the elements into individual pieces. While the two approach their individual productions differently, Varis favouring immediacy over Newman's studious approach, such differences turn out to be complementary on this shared outing.

Generally speaking, Nine, which features co-productions ranging from compact two-minute statements to a seventeen-minute meditation (“Amber (Sleep Test for Erik)”), is more overtly melodic than the Autistici work Newman has issued and a tad more accessible, too. The material is also less hermetic than solo electronic-experimental work can sometimes be, with an expansive, multi-hued setting such as “Light Blue,” for instance, sounding as if the artists pushed each other to ever more powerful expressions as work on the piece advanced, and the energy level is intense as well. In fact, “Violet Green,” wherein flickering fragments of acoustic pianos swim within a smeared mass of static and thrum, is so energized it verges on agitated. Elsewhere, the vibrant gleam of an organ towers over every other sound in “Blue (Heart of a Diver),” resulting in a trippy ambient-drone of distinctly mind-altering character, and a heaving thrust drives “Grey Orange Red” as an ear-catching counterpoint to the flickering clicks and static that otherwise constitute the sound field.

In a number of cases, the remixers operate according to form, though a few catch the listener off-guard with especially memorable versions. Fischer's texturally resplendent “Blue Light” treatment is very much in line with what one might expect from a 12k associate, while Hipgrave's crackled-drenched “Blue” is also consistent with what an artist who's appeared on Home Normal and Low Point might create. In a dream-like makeover speckled with flutes and nocturnal evocations, Isnaj Dui (aka Katie English) transforms “Red Grey Orange” into a very personal electro-acoustic sound portrait; her work always stands out from the crowd, and that's no less the case here. Pillowdiver's artful handling of “Violet Green” is similarly nuanced; Letters! On Sounds' approach to “Amber,” on the other hand, distances itself dramatically from the others (too much so to these ears) in recasting the original as a juggling act of flickering guitar fragments and beats. Regardless, aficionados of electronic, electro-acoustic, and experimental musics obviously should find much to like about Nine, especially when its two CDs present such a rich sampling of work by different artists.

February 2016