Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Euclid
Western Vinyl

It was a serendipitous encounter with a neighbour that altered the course of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's musical direction. Though she had studied composition and sound engineering at Berklee College of Music, where her primary focal points were voice, classical guitar, and piano, and applied much of what she'd learned to her stint in the indie-folk band Ever Isles, it was the Buchla 100 synthesizer her neighbour lent her that exerted a profound impact on her musical state of mind. So transformative was its effect that she abandoned work on a new Ever Isles album to create the kind of playful electronica vignettes featured on her solo debut album Euclid.

One of the things that argues most strongly in Euclid's favour is the fact that while Smith is, one presumes, unqualifiably serious about the craft of music-making, the music itself isn't po-faced or joyless. In fact, the material (which she primarily composed on a Buchla Music Easel synthesizer) exudes a playful innocence and explorative zeal that calls to mind the early experiments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Formally speaking, Euclid was inspired by her affection for mbira music and early electronic music pioneers such as Laurie Spiegel and Terry Riley.

In a very clear sense, the forty-three-minute album organizes itself into two halves: the first six pieces were structurally determined in accordance with a Euclidean Geometry-related concept Smith explored in a class at the San Francisco Conservatory; the second half of the recording is devoted to “Labyrinths I-XII,” whose twelve parts Smith originally created as soundtracks for old silent films she found online.

The opening six pieces are buoyed by sparkling synthesizer treatments but also wordless vocals and sing-song melodies that exude somewhat of a vague Asian character. In these dense, multi-hued constructions, Smith's bright voice emerges as an almost child-like presence within an ever-percolating swirl of staccato melodies, percussive effects, and rambunctious beats. And there are moments, such as during “Stunts,” where the material is so playful and joyous it could pass for a Lullatone production as much as one by Smith.

While each of the songs in the opening section is in the three- to four-minute range, those in “Labyrinths I-XII” are largely one to two minutes in length. But even though the scene changes occur more rapidly, the material itself is slower and gentler than that in the opening half, and the tranquil character of the “Labyrinths” settings isn't unwelcome coming as it does after the freneticism of the initial group. Smith herself states that “Labyrinths I-XII” is designed to make one feel as if one's “walking through a holographic labyrinth and encountering different experiences such as hang gliding, viewing microbes under a microscope, ice fishing in Alaska, and watching glaciers collapse.” No doubt each listener will develop a unique set of impressions in response to Smith's kosmische vignettes, which glisten and pulsate in delightfully low-key manner. At times, the softly whistling tunes play like overtures of contact coming to us from some distant star.

January 2015