M. Geddes Gengras: Ishi
Any reasonably credible appreciation of M. Geddes Gengras's Ishi requires some degree of understanding of the title's meaning. Ishi is the name that was given to “the last wild Indian” in North America, who, almost wholly isolated from contempoary society, emerged from the wilderness of northern California in 1911 at the age of forty-nine. What little exposure he had to Western civilization involved him witnessing the deaths of his family and tribe—from disease and massacre at the hands of Gold Rush settlers—until he alone remained. After emerging, the attempts at communication between Ishi and the strange new world were understandably difficult.
Obviously Ishi's case serves as a metaphor for outsiders in general; in Gengras's own words, “The record is about the schism that exists between the world we live in and those stuck on the margins of it—perpetual outsiders and their quest to understand the torrent of information they are constantly subjected to…I look at it as music for passage between different realms, conscious and un, this world and another, layers of reality…” He also drew inspiration for the project from two people close to him—outsiders both—who recently died, and Ishi is thus a requiem of sorts designed to honour their memory.
The release, in its vinyl form a concise affair at three tracks and thirty-six minutes (the CD and digital versions include a fourth track, “Vigil”), makes for a fine follow-up to Collected Works Vol. 1 The Moog Years, the set Gengras issued on Umor Rex Records in 2013. The music unfolds with deliberation and purpose, particularly during the longer pieces, “Passage” and “Threshold,” whose amplitude and breadth encourage immersion.
With its analog synthesizer patterns unspooling in dizzyingly cyclical patterns, “Passage” floods the aural space like a sparkling rainshower, and Gengras's dense sound design achieves a sunblindedness that invites comparison to Tangerine Dream during its ‘70s prime. It's “Threshold,” however, that is Ishi's coup de grace, a magnificently realized soundscape of graceful character that ebbs and flows dramatically for eighteen glorious minutes. Though Gengras has the material exhale in wave-like surges throughout, the possibility of combustion feels consistently close at hand. His penchant for crafting long, sweeping vistas of ambient-drone material is well-accounted for in Ishi's three settings, each one of which is capable of entrancing the listener.