Encre: Plexus II

Greg Haines: Slumber Tides

Miasmah, the label established by Deaf Center member Erik Skodvin, takes its rightful place amongst other highly regarded experimental electronic labels with its superb second and third recordings (after the equally strong Silva compilation).

Plexus II is a remarkable 41-minute, single-movement composition created by Yann Tambour, a Frenchman who records under the pseudonym Encre. The work itself emphasizes classical sounds but is electronically assembled and, consequently, this reverential and pensive amalgam of strings, loops, and dark ambiance represents a meeting ground between Colleen and Deaf Center. Befitting its length, the work unfolds slowly, starting from a gradual buildup of scraped and creaking strings and then blossoming with the vibrant addition of singing string accents, bright plucks, and rumbling piano chords. One's attention is captured by the ever-growing accumulation of sounds, so much so that the piece's lulling, see-sawing rhythm almost goes unnoticed. When, at the 14-minute mark, the mass expands further to include horns and backward phasing effects, the piece becomes even more entrancing and transporting; interestingly, though, it almost all drops away three minutes later, when the piece returns to its beginnings where only a scraped string breathes over a quietly clicking pattern. A minute later, waves of strings initiate the second part and, in seemingly no time at all, the work plunges headlong into a dark, swirling sea of strings, surrendering to its undertow. Thereafter, the surging tides, eventually joined by rippling layers of percussive clatter, swell to gargantuan levels. As before, however, the music then vanishes, leaving behind rustling noises only for the remaining eight minutes. That's about six minutes too long in my estimation but that's the sole miscalculation in this otherwise captivating work.

Talk about prodigious talent: can Greg Haines really be only eighteen years old? The sophistication of the five classically-oriented compositions comprising Slumber Tides clearly belies the Surrey , UK-based composer's age. Haines (who also records under the Statskcartsa alias) gravitates towards an intensively melancholic brand of classical minimalism and often grounds his pieces in cello playing, such that the earthy character of the instrument's bowed sound imbues his music with naturalness and authenticity. The album's framed by two peaceful settings of multi-layered string loops while the atmospheric centerpiece “Tired Diary (Revised)” merges drifting currents of strings with tinkling bells. Building in intensity over nine minutes, “Submergence” shifts from a haunting vocal intro by Kristin Evensen Giaver to a mournful string section that climactically escalates and then expires, leaving in its wake seagull-like strings and faint choral voices. Haines also offers a personalized version of paradise on “Arups Gate,” a time-suspended drone built from glockenspiel and xylophone tones that glacially blossoms into a swooping mass of multi-layered tonalities. Needless to say, fans of Max Richter and Colleen will find much to enjoy on this splendid and oft-beautiful release.

December 2006