The OO-Ray: Astoria

Astoria is a stunning set of electroacoustic cello improvisations from self-described “ambient shoegazer cellist” Ted Laderas aka The OO-Ray. Combining cello performance and sound processing techniques (looping, pitchshifting, and reverberation) and citing David Darling, Brahms, and My Bloody Valentine as inspirations, Laderas builds his multi-tiered sound into towering and oft-majestic chamber meditations. The album originated out of a year-long project that found him producing an improvisation a week, a production approach that in turn helps account for the album's shifting moods, given that the year was filled with moments of extreme joy but also sadness.

It takes no time at all for the listener to be drawn into Astoria's world when the cello's deep groan appears seconds into “Moments of Quiet Technicolor,” a dirge-like drone whose strings are propelled by the death knell of a recurring pluck. In “Marzo,” Laderas builds up so many cello layers the instrument becomes a string orchestra, resulting in a field of texture and melody that's so rich and dense the effect is mesmerizing, while he elsewhere conjures a shimmering fairy-tale world (“Gwageus”) and creates settings equally majestic and mournful (“Andalucía”). Deep symphonic tones, more suggestive of organ and horns than cello, give “Sleep” a Wagnerian majesty.

There is much to admire about this recording: first and foremost, the range of sound Laderas draws from the cello, with its upper and lower registers and percussive potential amply exploited, and with pizzicatto playing heard alongside the bowing (strikingly heard in “Bubbaly,” for example); and, secondly, the circumspection shown in having the twelve settings last only three- to four-minutes on average. Each piece appears just long enough to establish its own sound-world but then, having done so, exits. It's truly remarkable to hear as luscious a set-piece as “Chimes at Midnight” be brought to life in just three minutes.

October 2011