Aaron Martin: Worried About the Fire

Don't be too misled by the nature theme surrounding this release. Yes, the cover depicts a wintry forest scene and, yes, the press photos show Aaron Martin at the outdoors site and bowing an upright banjo inside his Topeka, Kansas home. But he's also a sophisticated user of electronic production methods, something that becomes clearly evident when he builds his core set-up of cello, banjo, harmonica, and organ into chamber-like set-pieces that sound like they're being performed by a septet rather than a single individual.

Originally conceived to be a soundtrack to a short film, Worried about the Fire, Martin's fourth full-length solo album following releases on Preservation, River Water, and Chautauqua, finds him weaving bits and pieces culled from various collaborations and solo performances into twelve succinct settings. Apparently Martin favours a live approach but in this case uses electronic means to build the material into ensemble-styled arrangements. In “Open Knife,” for example, Martin creates the impression of a strings-heavy chamber orchestra when his bowed cello multiplies into a droning choir of see-sawing voices. In general, Worried about the Fire could be described as a meditative mini-drone-oriented collection that sees Martin using cello as the material's nucleus. One of the major things that distinguishes his music from that of other producers is that, though electronic methods are used, the overall sound is largely acoustic in nature. In “Water Tongue,” bowed strings accumulate to form an entrancing drone-based meditation, while the shuddering wail of strings and ghostly bowing dominate “Beaver Falls” and the spectral folk-ambient “Making Rope out of Eyelashes,” respectively. Strings, incidentally, aren't the only sounds heard: “Blue Light” pairs dusty piano and voice, and “Ice Melts Onto Fingers” includes harmonica wheeze, glass tinkles, and glissandi effects that resemble a porpoise's call. By experimental music standards, the tracks are short—only one exceeds four minutes—but that is part of their appeal. Each makes a complete statement and does so with admirable dispatch, and there's obviously nothing extraneous about the material. One could imagine the hazy drone “Marked in Dust” stretching out for ten minutes but Martin opts to not only rein it in but supplant it with a mini-typhoon of strings before it makes its three-minute exit.

April 2010