Marc Barreca: Aberrant Lens
Palace Of Lights

Interestingly, the press text accompanying Aberrant Lens makes mention of subtle Cluster and Fripp & Eno homages that Marc Barreca has woven into the twelve settings on his seventh solo album for Palace of Lights. Often an electronic composer will, even if disingenuously, try to make a case for the sui generis character of the work involved rather than admit to the influence of precursors. Barreca, on the other hand, is secure enough about the artistry of his own productions that he's comfortable recognizing the impact certain figures have had upon him.

On that point, one can identify at least two aspects of Aberrant Lens that suggest an Eno influence: first, the simple piano figures that surface within “Reification” are reminiscent of something one might hear on an early Eno ambient release (Music For Airports' opening piece one of many possible examples); and second, the instrumentation Barreca is credited with on the inner sleeve lists ‘uneducated guitar' alongside digital synthesis, accordion, sampled instruments, field recordings, and digital audio treatments, an Eno-like gesture if there ever was one (consider that ‘spasmodic percussion,' ‘choppy organ,' ‘snake guitar, and ‘uncertain piano' are among the instruments listed on Another Green World).

And yet while all that might be so, it would be a mistake to make too much of the influence detail: while not sui generis, Aberrant Lens definitely presents new and innovative sounds within its dozen settings, so much so that the question of influence quickly begins to seem irrelevant. The pieces ultimately register as Barreca pieces, pure and simple, even if recognizable nods to others occasionally surface. Filled with micro-detail sourced from physical instruments and samples, each setting radiates from four to six minutes at a time before politely steeping aside to make way for the next.

The dozen pieces are very much abstract sound works that generally eschew single focal points and conventional narrative arcs for an overall display that exploits colour and detail to a maximal degree (something similar could be said of the typical Cluster production). Barreca individuates them by using a different palette for each, such that one might prominently feature slide guitar shadings and another glass harmonica or Indonesian metallophones. In fact, it really shouldn't surprise that the pieces exemplify such a powerful visual character when the striking images adorning the glossy CD package were also created by Barreca, and in this case the vibrant, zestful abstract designs function as natural analogues to the musical expressions.

An overview of the sound design on display offers a clear impression of the style and sensibility in play. During “Magnetic Lens,” crystalline tendrils criss-cross with string instrument accents and the occasional plunk of a piano key while a metallic gamelan pattern gradually emerges from the background. “Harmonic Jar” and “Lens Degradation” transport us to some backwater swamp where grungy guitars bring a bluesy edge to flickering electronic treatments; by contrast, “Diffraction Image” achieves a peaceful, contemplative air in its blending of harmonium-like shudder and delicate electronic exhalations.

The aural equivalent of an Ouroboros, a typical Barreca piece folds back in on itself, so much so that one could imagine any one of them functioning as endlessly repeating soundtrack material for a gallery installation. Like Palace of Lights' founder Kerry Leimer, Barreca's been creating electronic music since the mid-‘70s yet Aberrant Lens shows him to be as creatively explorative and vital as ever. Some kind of award for creative longevity should be established to reward figures like Barreca and Leimer, living proof that artists can remain innovative and produce material of integrity and high calibre long after their first works appeared.

March 2017