Lantscap: Varying Degrees of Alive
If there's a word to describe Ian Hawgood, it must be prolific. Not only does he oversee the Home Normal, Nomadic Kids Republic, Tokyo Droning, and Koen Music (KOMU) labels, he's also inexhaustibly productive as a solo artist and collaborator. Two examples of the latter are our immediate concern, with Hawgood teaming up for new Rion and Lantscap releases with Ryo Nakata and Warren Kroll, respectively.
Lantscap's Varying Degrees of Alive impresses as a particularly lovely release, and not just because of its gorgeous sky-blue vinyl presentation (100 180-gram copies available via mail order from the Infraction site followed by 200 white vinyl copies)—although it certainly provides a strong enhancement to its aural content. The recording pairs Hawgood with Warren Kroll (aka Forrest) in a diverse album featuring five settings the two crafted using electric guitars, pedals, synthesizer, tapes, and vocals. It's guitar that's the number one instrument in this case (albeit one heavily processed) as the material generally roots itself in a plethora of six-string-generated rumble.
Varying Degrees of Alive opens with the fuzzy sputter of “Folie à deux,” whose thick, molten slab of shudder and shimmer casts a mesmerizing spell, even if the piece is relatively short by dronescaping standards at six minutes. Though there are commonalities between them, the tracks don't simply riff on a repeating theme; instead, contrasts emerge from one piece to the next. Whereas “Varying Degrees of Alive,” for example, serves up a seasoned exercise in controlled immolation, “Flow of Particle Topography” brings forth the quieter and more meditative side of Lantscap's sound.
The album's natural centerpiece is “Astral Plain,” fourteen minutes of galaxial exploration of particularly potent character. As much kosmische musik as dronescaping, the piece stretches long trails of blurry illuminations across the immense upper stratosphere. Though shorter at eight minutes, “Mr Bonnet” makes as strong an impression in bringing the album to an incandescent close with the grandeur of its symphonic sweep. All praise to Hawgood and Kroll for creating such a memorable set, and to Infraction also for presenting the release in such flattering manner.
Fireflies, Rion's debut collection, sees Hawgood paired with Ryo Nakata, who calls Sapporo, Japan home and issues solo material under the Ryonkt name. At thirteen minutes, the opening piece is so encompassing with respect to Rion's sound that it could hold up as a representative track for the forty-six-minute whole—imagine a shimmering drone subtly speckled with outdoors field recordings, a collective sound that softly murmurs in such a way as to very convincingly evoke the wondrous experience of watching fireflies in the dimming light of an early summer evening. Interestingly, the track doesn't sound all that much different than the material featured on the Lantscap recording, though that surprise lessens once one discovers that guitar is also a key part of Fireflies' sound design. As the album progresses, however, the differences between the albums become as evident as the contrasts between their cover images, with Rion's sound palette the more wide-ranging of the two.
Recorded over a two-year period, the five-track release blends Ryo's guitar drones with Hawgood's field recordings, electric piano, church organ, harmonium, guitar, and double bass contributions (Rie Mitsutake aka Miko also contributes a breathy, wordless vocal to the closing track “Spirits”). In terms of production methodology, no software or laptops were used; instead, all of the component sounds were recorded onto a small multi-track cassette and then transferred onto reels. Regardless, the material possesses a degree of fluidity and resolution that suggests the duo weren't handicapped in any way by the production processes involved.
The opening track flows without pause into the next, “Let Me Sing You a Song of Kindness,” the becalmed mood still in place but the drone now augmented by a greater number of textures and a denser cluster of haze and swirl the result. During “Hope,” real-world sounds—the speaking voice of a Japanese woman, the clacking noises of a typewriter-like device, fireworks, and the like—and a softly whistling, mellotron-styled instrument provide organic counterpoints to the pulsating drone. If anything, it's the non-drone elements, things like Rhodes sprinkles, the woodsy groan of the double bass, and the pluck of a thumb piano, that ultimately give Fireflies its distinguishing character.