Beau Breather: College Hotel
Editions Verde

All three of these prolific, LA-based composers bring extensive backgrounds to this collaborative venture, and even the briefest of visits to the respective Bandcamp sites of Jean-Paul Jenkins, Caspar Sonnet, and Jordan Dykstra reveals an abundance of releases from which to choose. College Hotel suggests that the three are most comfortable operating in a zone where alternate tuning systems, minimalism, deep listening, and microtonality are in play and where long-form settings of twenty-minute (or longer) durations aren't uncommon. Though only one of the recording's five settings cracks the twenty-minute mark in this case, even the shorter pieces exude a forceful meditative character.

If there's a unifying element in play, it's Dykstra's viola, which in its bowed form naturally engenders associations with early drone minimalism, but the instrument doesn't surface on all five settings. Further to that, the three musicians don't appear on all of the pieces either, with three of them featuring two members only. Such a detail would likely not be known in the absence of credit info for each track, especially when most pieces share a restrained meditative quality (for the record, College Hotel is pitched at a far less harrowing level than, say, Day of Niagara, the piece recorded by The Dream Syndicate in 1965).

Yet while they do share a meditative quality, each of the five soundworlds is different. “Check-In Time” accompanies a viola-generated drone with alien space warble, bowed percussion shimmer, and dulcimer-like flutter. Rustling noises produced by stones and voice quickly distance “Sleep It Off” from the opener, even if the creak of bowed tones establishes a through-line. The closing “Ambient 5: Night Hymn” is naturally the quietest of the five. If there's a go-to track here, it's arguably the central one, “On the Spectrum,” for how hypnotically it captures Dykstra and Jenkins stretching out layers of string drones. Bowed tones extend for minutes at a time, some hovering high above and others far below, and the downward alterations in pitch that emerge towards the end occur so gradually they could escape notice.

Compositional structures appear to be in place, but the pieces unfold like pure improvisations laid down in real time (never more so than during “Layers as They Lie” when Sonnet and Dykstra use percussion, stones, rice, and beans to create its ever-mutating design)—even if the multiple instruments each member plays on a given piece hints that some small degree of overdubbing might have been involved. Then again, the generous running time of most tracks would have allowed the participants to switch easily from one sound-generator to another as the material emerged.

August 2016