Billy Gomberg: Days
The Land Of

Haruki: To Humble A Nest
The Land Of

The Land Of's latest releases perpetuate the label's reputation for understated sound sculpting, the first of which comes from Billy Gomberg, a Chicago-born and Brooklyn-based musician and video artist who uses analog synthesis, digital treatments, acoustic recordings, and custom programming to produce “acoustics in love with their abstraction,” and the second from Haruki (Gent, Belgium-based Boris Snauwaert).

On the forty-minute Days, Gomberg's tracks are constituted by patiently-unfolding improvisations of feathery textures and melodic fragments, the electronically-treated music defining itself more as a translucent mass of interwoven sounds rather than as a hierarchical structure with melody at the forefront and a rhythm pattern behind it. Gomberg's is a low-level approach that demands an attentive ear in order to be appreciated; put simply, a given track features lots of activity during its meander but one must lean in closely to hear it. Following a given track's trajectory, one also becomes aware of the sensitivity with which Gomberg intuitively shapes the material from moment to moment—carefully adding a sound here and accentuating another there. In “Exposures,” tiny pebbles of pitter-pattering electronic sounds ripple alongside Gomberg's wordless vocal musings and dabs of treated piano. “Darkened” includes the voice of Anne Guthrie, Gomberg's Fraufraulein partner, though one could easily misidentify her voice as some purely electronically-generated sound, given the degree of transformation in play (apparently she recorded herself singing an old folk song in both Swedish and English, then mixed them together using software, and passed the results along to Gomberg who incorporated them into two of the album's tracks). When a few piano notes appear through the mist one minute into “Lights From Her Body,” the effect is almost startling, so habituated has the listener become by then to Gomberg's electronic style. It's nevertheless a reminder that Days' pieces are rooted in acoustic recordings of piano and voice, even if such sounds have been radically transformed. “Glass Negatives” pushes the style to its zenith with softly glimmering piano notes dotting a windswept mass that extends itself across a dozen, time-suspending minutes.

The revealing note on Haruki's sleeve —“All music by Haruki. Sounds from everywhere”—clarifies that, operating alone, Snauwaert stitches his material together from a motley range of sources in a manner that's open-ended but not indiscriminate. To Humble A Nest is considerably more extroverted than Days, and the Haruki material projects outward, ensnaring the listener as it does so in a free-flowing conflation of field recordings, acoustic, electronic, and digital sounds. At times acoustic sounds move to the forefront (a banjo rubbing up against a violin's creak in “A Door”) while electronics smother people's voices elsewhere. Though To Humble A Nest resist stylistic classification, two of its tracks nudge it in the direction of a particularly liberal conception of modern classical music, specifically “Greasy Coats and a Pair of Scissors,” a mutant setting for electronic fuzz, bass clarinet, razor guitar, and treated piano, and “Hunker,” a spacious minimalist setting for harp, harmonium, electronics, and field elements. “If I Wrote You” resembles a lost fragment from a science fiction film soundtrack that would complement perfectly the scene where a minor character gets dispatched in some stomach-churning manner, while “Besides Being Tempted” sounds like the final nine minutes of a patient's life as he takes in from his hospital bed the rich matrix of sounds around him. Listening to “Egel Egel” is like moving through an open marketplace somewhere in India, with ululating voices rising in the distance and pockets of electrical hum close at hand. In fact, as a whole, the forty-minute recording often resembles a walking tour through multiple, exotic settings, with some closer together in sonic spirit while others feel worlds away from one another.

September 2009