Black Swan: In 8 Movements

In 8 Movements from Black Swan—another composer in a recent string with a preference for anonymity—is best experienced in a single, uninterrupted sitting so that one might better immerse oneself in its submerged, even drowned world. It comes into being with a dramatic symphonic flourish reminiscent of Richard Strauss, though one strains to catch the orchestral details in all their clarity when the material is wrapped in a blanket of hiss and crackle so thick it would do Philip Jeck proud. It's with such a memorable beginning that the single-track work sets sail on its winding, forty-four-minute journey through murky and occasionally ominous waters. Moving slowly through fog-drenched territory, the material grows increasingly hallucinatory as the listener is pulled into the vortex of Black Swan's phantom dreamscaping. Passages of classical music samples are woven into shadowy ambient-drone masses that drift in slow-motion; faint traces of violins emerge from the cavernous echo, and celestial choirs can be heard intoning serenely at the center of the haze. In its closing quarter, the piece eventually reaches a state of elegiac resolution and calm that can't help but call to mind Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic (the version issued by Touch that features Philip Jeck the most natural reference point in this case) when Black Swan's choir voices rise up from their watery depths. One of the things that helps In 8 Movements stand apart from other classical-ambient recordings is the way in which the material subtly mutates, moving as it does from a classical segment into a drone section, then back again into a different classical passage and so on. As a result, a travelogue feel literally declares itself as the work follows a creeping path that is rarely predictable yet ultimately feels natural.

February 2011