Safety in a Number
bvdub: A Thousand Words
It's become something of a running joke in these parts to describe Brock Van Wey's latest bvdub set as the best he's yet produced—until, that is, the next one appears and the cycle begins all over again. That being said, it truly does seem as if a new summit has been reached with A Thousand Words, a seventy-seven-minute, single-track colossus that bvdub devotees will undoubtedly deem indispensable. Incredibly, he executed and recorded the piece, which features nineteen movements and over 500 channels of audio, live in one take at night and released it the next morning, without listening to it again, proofing it, or making a single change. To create the material, Van Wey used loops, samples, synthesis, and vocals, among other things, and worked with three keyboards, six live instruments, two samplers, two computers, and a phone to bring the work into being.
Listeners familiar with the early 2015 bvdub release Tanto, on which Van Wey honoured his “feline brother-in-arms” after the cat passed away from Feline Infections Peritonitis (FIP), will already be aware of Van Wey's deep connection to the animal. He returns to the theme again on A Thousand Words, which grew out of a recent discovery he made that cats only meow to humans, not to other cats or any other creatures. Out of that developed an even greater appreciation for the genuine, uncorrupted spirit of the feline, the way in which it communicates without deception or calculation, which in turn led to a desire on his part to express himself as directly. Admirably, Van Wey's pledged to donate part of the money earned from sales of A Thousand Words to a number of organizations, including the Animal Rescue League of Berks County (PA) and the SPCA of Wake County (NC). Barren must be the heart that can be unmoved by the cover image of the boy, his arm lovingly draped around the snuggling cat as he reads.
So how does A Thousand Words sound? Simply put, it's bvdub at its most rapturous, an open-hearted, deeply atmospheric outpouring outfitted in ultra-dense and multi-hued garb. Van Wey's synth washes are so huge, they're veritably oceanic, and so too is the scope of the work in general; if anything, calling it panoramic hardly does it justice. Similar to other bvdub recordings, gentle sequences of immense delicacy are followed by towering build-ups, and the material wends its way patiently through carefully administered changes in dynamics and arrangement, in certain passages plaintive classical piano intoning at the forefront and in others enveloping masses of blossoming synthetic design. With a little over six minutes remaining, a noticeable change-up occurs when the immense sound mass retreats, leaving in its wake a haunting piano-and-vocals coda. As he's done before, Van Wey makes music that invites surrender, though surrender in this case never felt so good, given the recording's seductively devotional tone. One can only begin to imagine how totally spent he must have been when the live take's final seconds arrived.
Everything said about A Thousand Words might make the 2015 release Safety in a Number appear nonessential, but that would be wrong. If anything, it lends support to the earlier claim, considering that if I'd heard it when it first came out, I likely would have deemed it the zenith of Van Wey's bvdub output to date. The background details for it are scant, though we can report it was produced over a two-year period on two continents (presumably China and the US, Van Wey's previous and current home bases) and, upon its release, was described by its creator as “the most involved, complete, and intense album I have ever made.” While the two recordings are equivalent in length and often elegiac in spirit and ethereal in character, two things separate Safety in a Number from its successor: six settings are presented, not one, and whereas vocals appear only during the closing minutes of A Thousand Words, they're more plentifully featured on Safety in a Number.
Van Wey blends his vocal and instrumental materials into constructions of stately grandeur that advance through numerous stages over the course of their extended running times. At the recording's outset, an echo-drenched female voice imbues “Warm Tears in Three Colors” with a sultry warmth in keeping with the melancholy radiance of the track as a whole. Halfway through the thirteen-minute ride, however, the intensity escalates, the singing, conveying words of hope and reassurance, grows ever more impassioned and declamatory, and the music rises to an ecstatic pitch, the initial acoustic guitars-and-synthesizers combination giving way to high-volume flurries of majestic synth chords.During the recording's longest track, the seventeen-minute “Safety in Numbers,” an initial episode of multi-layered vocal babble gives way to a plaintive piano sequence that in turn swells gloriously in volume and density with the addition of synthesizers and vocals. Elsewhere, classical piano playing lends “A Human Letter From the Air” an air of formal elegance, while “No Glory for the Risen” and “Crushed Under the Wait” offer meditative breaks from the dynamically charged intensity that largely reigns otherwise. The material presented on the two recordings, regardless of the differences between them, is mesmerizing, though that will no doubt come as no surprise to those who've been with Van Wey throughout the bvdub journey.