Barreca | Leimer: Dual Mono
Palace of Lights

Steve Peters: Airforms
Palace of Lights

To generate the instrumental settings on their remarkable double-CD set Dual Mono, longtime collaborators Marc Barreca and Kerry Leimer destabilized their customary working methods by bringing a three-stage form of creative volleying to the material's production. Each track was initially created by one of the artists, after which the other was given MIDI data that allowed for a re-voicing of the composition; in the third stage, the originator completed the track by taking the now-altered material and applying fine-tunings of various kinds to it—crossfades, editing, processing, and the like. Instruments and gear such as Moog synthesizers, digital accordion, sampled guitar, and piano are identified, but the sound sources used to produce the material are secondary in importance to the effect achieved by the tracks themselves.

The 110-minute collection presents fifteen electro-acoustic meditations rich in detail, resplendent in atmosphere, and shaped with immense sensitivity to form and sound design. Throughout this consistently entrancing collection, Barreca and Leimer demonstrate an uncanny gift for producing poised ambient-electronic settings that manage to be both experimental and innovative yet at the same time musical and mellifluous; each is a finely wrought meditation that patiently maps out a complete sound world in spans ranging anywhere from five to thirteen minutes. Acoustic piano appears in a couple of cases as the warm center around which glistening synthesizer textures and other elements gently swirl. The material is often placid in character and soothing in effect, but not everything's so serene: “Guiding Mist,” for instance, broods with dramatic foreboding, its titular mist less a cozy blanket than a suffocating shroud. Though particular details individuate one track from another, such as the inclusion of a voice sample on “Ad Hoc Principle” or the percussive accent pinging with insistent regularity through “Tilted Genre,” Dual Mono achieves a satisfying uniformity that suggests it's better regarded as a whole than as individual tracks; that said, certain ones do stand out as particularly strong, “Conscious Vapor Image” and “Corrupt Patina” among them. There's a level of refinement achieved in these cases that speaks most highly on behalf of their creators.

Steve Peters' Airforms arrives with the subtitle, Chamber Music 10, but don't infer from the designation that it's a classical work performed by a small acoustic ensemble. The subtitle can be taken literally in this case, as what the sound artist does in the series is record the ambient contents of empty rooms, which he then develops into site-specific installations presented in the same location where the original recordings were made. For this chapter, Peters created Airforms as a 2013 birthday gift for Steve Roden, who generously provided two hours of ‘silent' room tone captured at his bubble-shaped ‘Airform' house. The first hour provided material to generate the drone content, the second material for the bright tones, the two layers of which were then superimposed in the final work. It's remarkable to think that frequencies derived from a ‘silent‘ room could, with little electronic processing applied, result in music so rich in detail and resonant character.

The hour-long setting begins with the bright, reverberant burble of crystalline bell tones that, appropriately, convey a lighter-than-air feel. With the material advancing at a restful, unhurried pace from the outset, a peaceful ambiance is established quickly and remains in place for the duration. Airforms isn't without incident, however; though a generative quality is suggested, the sound field evolves continually, a consequence of Roden-inspired strategies that were incorporated to bring indeterminacy to the work's form. Multiple layers are in play during certain moments, whereas others find the music stripped down to the most minimal of presentations. In one sense, it's classic ambient material, albeit of an exceptionally pretty sort, that one can attend to as much as ignore; at the same time, its unpredictable array of sonar pings and murmuring drones keeps the listener engaged at every moment, even if a consistent sound palette is adhered to throughout. Interestingly, a climax of sorts occurs during the work's concluding minutes when the drone escalates in volume and intensity before dying away.

No discussion of the two releases would be complete without mention of their presentation. Leimer and company have outdone themselves in that regard, as Dual Mono and Airforms are distinguished by glossy, three-panel designs and accompanying eight-page booklets. One's impression of the recorded material is enhanced considerably when the releases are presented so handsomely.

August 2017