The Eightfold Model: The Eightfold Model

Dirk Serries: Microphonics I-V

Theo Travis / Fear Falls Burning: The Tonefloat Sessions

Talk about making a strong first impression. All three of these 180-gram vinyl releases come in deluxe gatefold packaging that complements beautifully the equally powerful musical material. All praise to Tonefloat for sparing no expense in the presentation of its products.

The Tonefloat Sessions, a collaborative two-track effort from flautist Theo Travis and guitar sculptor Fear Falls Burning (Dirk Serries), is even available in blue vinyl (200 copies) as well as the standard black (400 copies), and features a cover design that pays homage to the classic Blue Note era of sleeve design. The two musicians began by laying down the pieces in the studio with Travis extending his alto flute sounds using a customized “ambitronics” setup and Serries expanding on his 1976 Custom Les Paul guitar by feeding it through his trademark Ibanez effects pedals. Side A's “The Lamentation Returns” is a slow-motion, fifteen-minute meditation that pairs the becalmed drift of Travis's warm flute tones with the harmonic atmospheres sculpted by Serries. Mysterious without being nightmarish, the piece exudes a sense of time-suspended peacefulness in its steady unfurl, and the lull of its rhythms suggests the near-imperceptible rise and fall of a breathing body during sleep. “Melancholy of the Masses” is even quieter and more mournful too, as Travis's multi-tracked flutes meander querulously amidst the scarred ruins of Serries' drone setting. Though Travis's flute playing dominates initially, the guitarist's sheets of industrial shimmer gradually assume greater prominence. The contrast between Travis's almost woodsy flute tones and the steely textures of Serries' guitar playing proves highly effective on this distinctive half-hour release.

The guitarist goes it alone on his Microphonics I-V release (available in both clear [150 copies] and black [350 copies] vinyl) and the results are no less stirring. Amazingly, Serries initially regarded the Microphonics tracks as purely developmental ideas not intended to be released officially. In time, he came to realize, however, that the material actually captured the essence of his musical identity and so decided to make them publicly available. Layers of guitars incrementally build in the twelve-minute opener “Microphonics IV” with a rising motif the work's elegiac central theme. The piece is less a drone than a glorious multi-tiered rumination whose interweaving themes and atmospheres ultimately coalesce into an hypnotic, floating mass. The droning guitar layers in “Microphonics III” even at times resemble organ tones, an effect that bolsters the intimate, devotional feel of the material. Though the coup de grace can't help but be the sixteen-minute closer “Microphonics V,” the collection as a whole leaves a powerful cumulative impression. The pieces at times invite comparison to the soundscapes recordings Robert Fripp has issued during the past decade. Spectral in tone and intimate in character, Microphonics' four tracks offer a glimpse into the meditative heart beating at the center of Serries' music. (Mention also must be made of the arresting photographs by Martha Verhoeven that adorn the inside and outside of the sleeve.)

It's great to see KPT Michigan on record again as Michael Beckett's seemingly been keeping a low profile of late. He and Serries join forces for seven tracks under the name The Eightfold Model on their collaborative black vinyl release (500 copies). Though the two are natural collaborators, given the degree to which both embrace experimentalism in their individual projects, the recording isn't a document of in-studio guitar interplay as the seven tracks were recorded at various locations without the duo ever meeting in person. It's not an axe summit either as Beckett's credited with harmonium, field recordings, and processing devices while Serries supplements his electric guitars with loop and processing devices. What we get, then, are slow-motion drones and rippling explorations produced using non-digital sound sources, field recordings, and guitars re-routed through an array of effect pedals. Each of the tracks seems to head down a different pathway: in “Lullaby For Shimon,” a rather Scottish-like theme repeatedly rises to the surface of the churning ambient mass; the noise of outdoors field sounds drenches shuddering guitar harmonics in “Hille”; and “Tegel” and “Vrooom” offer heady side-trips into widescreen krautrock ambient and blizzardy dronescaping, respectively. Lots of ground covered in this single release.

March 2009