Dirk Serries: Unseen Descending and Lamentations
Dirk Serries & Rutger Zuydervelt: Buoyant
Dirk Serries adds to an ever-expanding discography with two fine releases, one a solo set and the other a collaboration with Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek), a kindred ambient-soundscaping experimentalist who's output is as prodigious. Without wishing to take anything away from Zuydervelt, Buoyant is fundamentally Serries' show, given that it's his guitar work that is the core element. Having said that, his partner does much to turn Buoyant into something dramatically unlike a pure solo Serries recording.
Presented in four parts ranging from eight to fourteen minutes each, the material is consistent with the meditative soundscaping style Serries has been bringing to a new level of refinement for many years. For his part, Zuydervelt adopts the role of interventionist and colourist, his focus being to modify the guitarist's expressions using effects and processing without altering it to such a degree that Serries' playing loses its identifiable character. Some additions are relatively startling—the appearance of a restrained percussive pulse alongside the guitarist's textural washes during “Buoyant Two: The Whispering Scale” is not something one typically encounters in a Serries cut, for example—whereas others verge on subliminal. “Buoyant Four: The Dissection” exemplifies the latter in ornamenting Serries' long-form tendrils with warbles, sonar blips, and smears.
But even when Zuydervelt's treatments are at their most plentiful, the guitarist's signature sound is still present and accounted for. A case in point is “Buoyant Three: Unraveled Blanket,” where nebulous masses smolder, heave, and convulse so dramatically they threaten to obliterate the guitar altogether. Yet despite the dominance of those billowing textures, they never extinguish the axe completely, and the track ends up an evenly matched tug-of-war between the various elements. Heavily atmospheric, Buoyant's material appears restful and becalmed, yet tension simmers just below the surface to suggest turbulence is never too far away.
With two twenty-minute pieces featured, Serries' Unseen Descending And Lamentations seems perfectly tailored for a vinyl presentation, yet plays satisfyingly in a CD format, too. The release includes few recording details aside from crediting Serries with “all instruments” and indicating that the recording was made in October 2014, so whatever impressions one develops must come from the music itself. Certainly it's a little bit tempting to draw a comparison between this recording and Robert Fripp's soundscapes releases, especially when the church facade on the cover of Unseen Descending And Lamentations calls to mind Fripp's At the End of Time: Churchscapes, Live in England & Estonia, 2006. Yet while Serries has no doubt drawn inspiration from his legendary counterpart, Serries' shimmering sound shares little with Fripp's e-bow-like swoop.The two pieces—prosaically titled “Part One” and “Part Two”—are classic Serries: slow-burning, long-form meditations of multi-layered density that unfold organically. They build slowly, swelling in mass as they do so, until a summit is reached; following that, an equally controlled decompression sets in until the material retreats into silence. The press release indicates that Serries augmented his guitar work on the recording with Fender Rhodes and violin, and sure enough they're clearly audible (the violin especially) in the second setting, which swells to a raw and curdling yet nevertheless controlled howl. Still, he's developed such a characteristic way of shaping his material that it operates less as a gathering of distinct individual elements than as a total sound mass, and consequently “Part Two,” though it is admittedly the more dynamic of the two pieces on the release, ends up fitting cozily alongside other purely guitar-generated settings in his repertoire.