Gunshae: The Sky Is A Gateway, Not A Ceiling
TKG Music

The Sky Is A Gateway, Not A Ceiling isn't Gunshae's first release, the EP having been preceded by the Vancouver-based outfit's debut album Travelling Without Memory and follow-up Out Of Darkness, Light, but it does feel like something dramatically different from what's come before. On their latest Gunshae (pronounced Gun-shai) release, sound painter Kuma and the classically trained Lady Eve concoct a thirty-six-minute ambient-classical hybrid whose slow dazzle is more than a little powerful.

Gunshae's fusion of electronic and classical genres is apparent from the start when a rustic folk-styled viola figure appears against a dense collection of ambient textures and field recordings, with the looped string motif augmented soon after by Lady Eve's oboe and English horn playing. The various sounds coalesce to form a rich, opaque mass whose unhurried drift imparts a lulling effect to the material. With formal beat patterns absent (the occasional muted throb of a tympani-like instrument aside), the ambient character of the piece is preserved, and with the instruments swimming in the mix, alternately taking their place at the forefront and then blending back into the mass, the piece assumes the form of a dream-state or hallucination to which one has surrendered. Throughout this constantly mutating work, muffled voices, strings, oboes, and English horns freely intermingle within a hazy dronescape generated from Kuma's tapes and field recordings. The listener's engagement with the piece never lapses when the piece works its way through multiple scene-changes, and to Gunshae's credit the transitions from one episode to the next are effected seamlessly.

By classical standards (or even conventional musical standards, for that matter), The Sky Is A Gateway, Not A Ceiling is an abstract work that one could perhaps describe as collage-like were it not so fluid in its presentation. But though that might be the case, a clear sense of mood and character is asserted; to a large degree, the stately and elegant qualities of the material can be attributed to the presence of the oboe and English horn, but it's also more generally the work as a whole that establishes such an impression. In that regard, Gunshae's own description of it as “(p)rocession music for ceremonies yet held” isn't off-target. Regardless of how one chooses to characterize it, The Sky Is A Gateway, Not A Ceiling achieves a remarkable fusion of experimental and classical forms.

February 2016