David Maranha & Helena Espvall: Sombras incendiadas
Three:four Records

The idea of an album featuring violin and cello playing suggests any number of possible scenarios: one might picture, for example, a warm outdoors cafe in Vienna where patrons are serenaded by the melodically rich playing of string players, or perhaps an elegant concert hall where formally attired attendees bask in the chamber elegance of the musicians' performance. An entirely different scenario is presented, however, by Sombras incendiadas (“Exploding Shadows”), which pairs amplified violinist and electric organist David Maranha and amplified cellist Helena Espvall in a thirty-eight-minute set of raw drone-based duets that calls to mind the searing sounds produced by Tony Conrad and La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble.

The seeds for the collaboration were planted in 2006 when Espvall's band Espers played a Lisbon show and the cellist and violinist met for the first time. A desire to work together developed, which they were able to realize when Espvall moved to Lisbon two years ago. Recorded in Violente do Céu between December 2012 and March 2013, Sombras incendiadas features four tracks ranging in duration from seven to thirteen minutes, all of them dense, monolithic, and raw.

The range of effects generated by the sawing strings ranges from searing and scabrous to molten and shuddering. Deprived of clarifying detail, the listener would likely count a heavily distorted electric guitar as one of the instruments, even if amplified violin and cello are the only string instruments involved. The seeming presence of guitar adds a Velvet Underground-like character to the material, such that one could easily visualize a late-‘60s gathering of Conrad on violin, Lou Reed on guitar, and John Cale on organ as the musicians executing the incantatory material instead of Maranha and Espvall.

Like some infected scab one can't stop picking, the music convulsively creeps, swoops, and crawls, burrowing deeply under one's mental skin whether one likes it or not. If there's a real-world analogue for the music the two've created, it might be the skin-crawling image of insects exploring one's insides after entering through various orifices during sleep. The unrelenting scrape and saw of the playing begins to feel like an itch in the brain one can't possibly scratch.

March 2015