Gideon Wolf: Year Zero
Fluid Audio

One of the more refreshing things about Year Zero is its lack of contrivance, with its creator Tristan Shorr remaining as true to his idiosyncratic self as he has on his three earlier Gideon Wolf productions. Though much of the material on Year Zero assumes a neo-classical character when the frontline features a cellist (Steph Patten) and violinists (Alex Taylor, Yoon-Ji Kim), never does Shorr sound like he's auditioning for candidacy in the classical composer ranks; instead, the music plays more like experimental electronic material that just happens to be dressed in neo-classical garb.

Also participating in the project are Gabi ‘Moog' Matzeu (Moog, Juno, SH-101, and Prophet synthesizers) and voice contributors Neath Champion-Weeks and Rachel Champion, Shorr's daughter and partner, respectively. Though Shorr's name doesn't appear in the credits as one of the musicians, one presumes that the composer not only midwifed the project into being but applied post-performance manipulations to it, too.

It's customary in a review to reference the presentation of a release in passing or as an addendum, but in this case attention deserves to be paid early on. Housed within a letter-pressed cover, the CD is accompanied by an antique map section, dried leaves, and twenty postcard-sized prints showing landscape photography, all of it neatly packaged alongside the cover. As a result, the release, issued in a limited edition of 200 copies, makes a powerful impression even before a note of the recording's heard. Much as it has with its previous releases, Fluid Audio has gone out of its way to turn Wolf's project into something special.

Twelve concise settings appear, each one slightly different in character and design and fluctuating dramatically in volume. Texture and dynamics are favoured over melody, with the instruments often hewing to single, droning pitches, and blurry keyboard patterns sometimes sparkle alongside the strings, which are raw, rustic, or elegant as the material demands. Though the compositional structures Shorr works with are quite simple, they're compensated for by the album's remarkably rich soundworld, cases in point the alien percolations Matzeu conjures for “Insect” and the mesmerizing vocal effects and rippling convulsions that give “Noise” its quasi-psychedelic character. Contrasts of mood are also common, such that the freneticism of “Limits” is counterbalanced by the sombre supplications of “Absence” and awe-struck wonder of “Year Zero.”

February 2017