Fear Falls Burning: The Rainbow Mirrors a Burning Heart

Fear Falls Burning: Woes of the Desolate Mourner

Dirk Serries: Microphonics I-V

Dirk Serries: Microphonics XII

Here are four recent releases from the ever-prolific Dirk Serries on his own Rotterdam-based label Tonefloat Records. Whether it's a recording issued under his birth name or as Fear Falls Burning, the material is always well worth the listener's time and attention, and, despite the fact that Tonefloat's a one-man operation, the presentation of the releases, regardless of whether they're CDs encased in mini-album cardboard sleeves or high-quality vinyl slabs, is as impressive as ever too. The differences between the Microphonics and Fear Falls Burning can be subtle, though one can say that the former's style is comparatively more stripped-down and the latter's more fuzz-toned. In both cases, however, Serries favours long-form settings that are focused more on cultivating atmosphere from drones and loops than establishing conventional melodic compositions, and while guitar-centered, his material is inviting and warm rather than alienating.

The fifty-minute CD Microphonics I-V (curiously titled given that its four track titles range from II to V) features ghostly, atmospheric settings that drift unhurriedly and exert a time-suspending and hypnotic, even seductive, pull on the listener. In the opening “Microphonics IV,” Serries first establishes a lulling backdrop of mournful character where clearly etched guitar motifs arc gracefully upwards, and then fleshes out the setting with organ-like shadings that illuminate the material as they scatter across it. Those same elements meld into simmering, multi-layered masses of slow-burning tendrils during the becalmed “Microphonics III” and “Microphonics II,” after which the sixteen-minute fifth variation unfolds like a slightly more grandiose culmination.

Complementing that is the Microphonics XII which splits its two halves across ten-inch vinyl sides. Having been laid down in January-February of 2010, the half-hour recording offers the most current portrait of Serries' Microphonics style. Created from a 1976 Gibson Les Paul guitar, tube amplifier, and effects, the material is perhaps the most natural sounding of all the recordings reviewed here. The album's strums and shadings produce a particularly lovely cri de cœur of plaintive character, and what distinguishes it further is that Serries opts for organic development in place of loop-based patterning—the feel is explorative, patient, and searching rather than predetermined, in other words. There's a supplicating quality to the music too, which makes it reminiscent in spirit to the solo soundscapes albums Fripp issued during the ‘90s and ‘00s (A Blessing of Tears, The Gates of Paradise, At the End of Time).

The first of two Fear Falls Burning sets, Woes of the Desolate Mourner features only two pieces, both of them recorded live at different locales in the Netherlands during 2006, but, in true FFB spirit, they're long-form to say the least, with the slow-burning drone of the title track stretching out for twenty minutes and the album's second piece, “Litany in a Time of Plague,” a monumental forty-nine. The former is classic Fear Falls Burning: recorded live at Extrapool in October 2006 at Nijmegen, the drone assumes the character of a shimmering lament as it breathes its quiet, fuzz-toned fire with methodical deliberation. At the start of “Litany in a Time of Plague” (recorded live at Sju Jazz Podium in Utrecht), the natural sound of the electric guitar is prominent with Serries strumming the guitar against a repeating background motif but soon enough the piece morphs into a quintessential Fear Falls Burning drone, its elements moving in and out of focus and coalescing into a simmering mass of washes and staggered tones. “Litany in a Time of Plague” isn't a static piece, however, but one that incrementally swells in intensity as its materials expand—like a cloud growing ever larger and darker, and as a result more threatening. With the music having assumed an altogether blurry character, the re-emergence of the natural guitar sound halfway through proves startling as the listener is shaken out of a state of reverie before undertaking the journey all over again.

The second Fear Falls Burning release, The Rainbow Mirrors A Burning Heart, pairs two pieces recorded live in 2005 at the Kulturbunker in Köln (and issued on vinyl a year later) with an unreleased studio recording from the same year. The original A-side, “The Rainbow Mirrors A Burning Heart I,” is a forceful electrical drone that resolutely adheres to a single, unwavering pitch and within which faint swirls of melodic figures emerge. The second variation is clearly the spookier of the two, filled as it is with spectral shudder and crusty shards and piercing stabs of bleeding tones. The heavily loop-based “I Dreamed This Mortal Part of Mine” exhales for thirty-three minutes, gradually growing grimier with each minute and, in its gargantuan expansion, more epic too. Like stars flickering on and off in an immense night sky, chiming chords speckle the burning drone until decompression sets in and a gradual deflation leads the way home.

In an interesting way, Serries is always soloing in every one of these long tracks, never conventionally so but in the sense that all of the components that make up his atmospheric settings originate spontaneously in live situations. In a strange sense, Serries' music also could be described as blues-like, not in the technical sense in that it conforms to chord progressions associated with the genre but more in the mournful spirit that's always present as an undercurrent. Though each Fear Falls Burning release offers a satisfying experience on its own terms, no one release can really be seen as definitive. Instead, each one should be heard as a contributing part of a singular massive project.

July 2010