Celer: Discourses of the Withered

Celer: The Everything and the Nothing

Celer: I Love You So Much I Can't Even Title This (The Light That Never Goes Out Went Out)

Celer: Nacreous Clouds

Married couple and alchemists extraordinaire Danielle Baquet-Long and Will Long (aka Celer) repeatedly demonstrate the uncanny ability to take virtually any source material and spin it into aural gold. The duo's and/OAR release Nacreous Clouds, for instance, presents seventy-eight minutes of thirty-seven miniatures (the longest four minutes, the shortest an 8.5 second-long voice sample that's jarring for being so unexpected and incongruous) that aspire to capture the “hyper-temporal nature” of said clouds which are distinguished from other clouds in a couple of key respects: nacreous clouds—also known as polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs)—reside in the winter polar stratosphere at altitudes of 15,000–25,000 metres (50,000–80,000 ft) and, due to their high altitude and the curvature of the Earth's surface of the, receive sunlight from below the horizon and reflect it to the ground, shining brightly well before dawn or after dusk. The production method adopted by the group is pure Celer: the partners first recorded themselves playing cello, violin, piano and bells, supplemented that material with field recordings (showers, sink water, television static, wind, car noises, etc.), and generated tape loops from selected bits which were then arranged into patterns and speeds that would resemble the clouds and their movements. The coup de grace?: “When mixing the loops, (they) played three to six of them at a time, on different reel-to-reel tape players connected to both of (their) laptops and channeled back out into a Kaiser filter.” Finally, Celer opted to leave the resultant material in a “raw” state by not enhancing the tracks with reverb, a move that imbues the material with a pristine purity. Adding to that quality is the fact that, though a rich range of source elements was used to produce them, the resultant material has been cleansed of identifiably associative characteristics and, consequently, each iridescent, quietly shimmering piece, reduced to its purest essence, floats peacefully through the stereo field, coming into view quickly and disappearing just as fast. In general, the mood is tranquil and the cumulative effect calming, even if some “clouds” drift more quietly than others. If ever a recording was tailor-made for random shuffle, it's Nacreous Clouds—even titling the tracks vividly as Celer has done (e.g., “Passing Hills and Still Windmills,” “Voiceless Devilfish”) seems an extravagance when they could just as reasonably be named “Nacreous Clouds I,” “Nacreous Clouds II,” and so on. The recording, like virtually all of Celer's output, invites immersion and promotes the experience of temporal suspension.

The two Infraction releases, Discourses of the Withered and The Everything and the Nothing, are related. Completed in November 2006, Discourses of the Withered was, in fact, Celer's first album to be accepted by a label. In assembling the seventy-minute recording, the duo drew upon a bank of tape loops they had created using violin, cello, piano, and theremin, as well as field recordings made in India and Nepal by Danielle and archived on a micro-cassette recorder in 2001-03. Once Discourses of the Withered reached completion, the group found itself with a surplus of bonus material and so, when Infraction asked them about releasing a bonus CDR, Celer decided to create a companion album using the extra material with The Everything and the Nothing the result. Though the recordings represent the physical products of Celer's first year together, they sound in no way tentative; if anything, the group sounds fully-formed.

Reportedly, both albums' themes center upon Danielle's travels in India and Nepal but literal evidence of that is generally camouflaged by the duo's approach to sound design. On Discourses of the Withered, six tracks (four longer than ten minutes apiece) unfurl like immense, billowing cloud formations. In contrast to Nacreous Clouds, reverb is strongly present in the haze that envelopes and trails after the muffled tones that unspool in such heavenly manner. Sometimes, however, field recordings of people voices and other outdoor sounds enter into the picture (shouting voices intrude upon the beatific splendour of “The Carved God is Gone,” for instance) but more often than not the listener is held spellbound by the seductively shimmering waves that gently surge in “Stargazing Lily Lacks the Flower” and “Delaying the Entropy: In Emptiness, Forms Are Born.”

The Everything and the Nothing is subtitled Outtakes and Ephemera from the Discourses of the Withered in 13 Parts but it's presented as a single, uninterrupted piece of seventy-minute duration. It picks up where its sister release leaves off with heavenly tonal waves and proceeds to weave similarly rapturous material and field recordings into an episodic travelogue. Signaled by the fleeting appearance of voices, the mood shifts twenty minutes in, becoming even more immersive in its reverb-drenched unfurl. A short recorded section of Indian music (voice and tablas) appears halfway through, as does—unusual for Celer—a humungous bass rumble that escalates to such an eardrum-shattering level you'll need to lower the volume before the speakers blow. The recording then enters a rather sci-fi-flavoured zone where limpid pools of synth tones softly waver, and shortly thereafter pipa playing (by Rob Farley) lends the recording an overtly exotic quality before the tonal waves re-appear to carry the piece to its conclusion.

As Celer devotees are aware, the duo also regularly issues handcrafted self-released CDRs of which the curiously-titled I Love You So Much I Can't Even Title This (The Light That Never Goes Out Went Out) is one of the latest (the artwork custom-made by Danielle, who's a painter and writer as well as a teacher of special education and music therapy). In this case, the hour-long recording's settings—two ten-minute and one forty—were created from field recordings of choirs and a string quartet performing the works of Samuel Barber at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 2006. Though the recorded material does exude a certain celestial character, Celer's transformations don't entirely camouflage the source materials; if listened to closely enough, the opening “Isotope Shortage” reveals that the warm, synth-like tones that quietly drone throughout contain traces of the choir voices, while the subsequent “Ruined Repairs” founds itself primarily on silken cross-currents of strings. Amorphous, slow-motion swirls of processed string and choir tones entrancingly rise and fall and fade in and out of one another throughout “The Delay of Intolerance”; listening to it might be likened analogically to barely-perceptible ghosts drifting through an abandoned, centuries-old mansion.

November 2008