K. Leimer: Re-enact
Palace of Lights

It takes a confident artist to title a track “Ordinary Music,” but then Kerry Leimer is no ordinary artist. He's been releasing music since the ‘70s and in addition to overseeing Palace of Lights' operations has issued a huge number of albums since the label's founding in 1979. “Ordinary Music,” one of ten new pieces on Re-enact, is quintessential Leimer, a deeply textured exercise in electro-acoustic sound design that presents a complete, self-contained universe packed with sonic information.

Listening to Re-enact, the impression forms of someone who approaches each piece as a blank slate and proceeds in much the same way as an abstract painter. Relying on technique refined over many years, he methodically fills in the canvas, adding a detail here and then another there, all the while proceeding in a way that might seem intuitive but in fact reflects a deeply internalized understanding of how a composition develops. Leimer's granular material is tactile in the extreme, his music obsessively focused on timbral contrasts and the layering and sequencing of its elements.

It would be grossly inaccurate to label Re-enact ambient (even if the press release does hail it as “a new post-ambient direction for Leimer's work”). Though he keeps a tight rein on volume contrast in the ten settings, each piece is rife with incident and detail, and the material's mutating character gives it a restlessness and dynamism not generally typical of ambient. Free of histrionics and dissonance, Leimer's music at every moment evidences the intelligence of its guiding hand and exemplifies control without at the same time sounding overdetermined or constricted.

While an overall sense of unity prevails, there are clear differences between the tracks. Acoustic piano and digital elements interface to varying degrees, contrasts in pitch and sonority are plentiful, and unexpected stylistic flirtations occur also. “Forward Masking” could be labeled slo-core or dark jazz, given the curdling pace at which its blend of brushed drums, bass clarinet, and strings crawls. And, compared to the Leimer norm, the level of threat alluded to during the ominous soundscape “Motion Study” verges on startling: if any previous Leimer composition has suggested a war zone evocation, it's news to me. By comparison, the scurrying noises within “Beside. On. After.” suggest the accelerated movements of an insect colony's members.

With so many Leimer albums from which to choose, it would be a fool's game to identify one as superior to another or even more brazenly the best of all. What can be said with assurance is that Re-enact, the sequel to last year's The Grey Catalog, is certainly on par with the best work he's issued. It's also one of his most attractively presented releases, packaged as it in a glossy, six-panel case and containing a full-colour, twelve-page insert (though I'll confess that I've yet to figure out why the pages, which individually juxtapose a photograph and track title, are sequenced with the track numbers out-of-order).

August 2016