Matt Davignon: Pink Earth
Ribosome Music

This latest recording from Oakland, California-based experimental musician Matt Davignon is a concept album of sorts purporting to document the impressions of an expedition team upon encountering the landscape, flora, and primitive fauna of a strange new planet. In truth, the album's five settings are so evocative by themselves they hardly need any kind of conceptual sci-fi baggage to bolster their impact. And that they are so evocative says much about Davignon's expressive talents, especially when they're generated using relatively minimal means: a manipulated drum machine, sampled singing voices, and a variety of electronic processing devices. In crafting his uncharted improvisations, this well-known figure within the San Francisco Bay Area experimental music community draws for inspiration from field recordings, natural sound phenomena, prepared instruments, and psychedelic, drone, and space music.

The illustrations of alien plant forms and strange biological entities gracing Pink Earth's packaging find their musical analogue in five settings, four of them lengthy and one considerably shorter. There's much to admire about the collection, its restraint for starters. Davignon doesn't bludgeon the listener with a barrage of sounds but instead draws the listener into his realm using a modest selection of sound treatments. At the start of the opening “Arrival / Pink Earth,” pitch-shifting tones and vocals waver woozily in almost sickly manner, the effect so unusual one can't help but be pulled along as the material wends its unpredictable way for almost twenty minutes. Though its development does seem to be governed by improvisation, the piece never feels as if it's meandering aimlessly; on the contrary, it unfolds with organic intent, variously suggesting as it does so ominous space transmissions or imaginary field recordings of rapidly mutating life-forms. An eerie quality permeates it, too, especially during those moments when the macabre material begins to suggest the channeling of the dead at a seance.

That field recordings dimension figures particularly strongly in “We came to a small clearing with insects and small lizards,” which truly does sound like an up-close document of amoebic and insect life-forms communicating with one another. “Moss Cathedral” and “Lepidoptera” maintain the unearthly character of the album's opening settings whilst also conjuring the image of a group of space-suited explorers carefully making their way across unfamiliar territory and encountering various gurgling life-forms, after which whistlings, warblings, and burbling voices accompany the team as they undertake their “Departure.” Davignon recorded Pink Earth at home and at the Chapel of the Chimes in Piedmont, California, but even a single hearing suggests it wouldn't take much to convince someone it originated from some other planetary locale.

February 2016