Nicholas Szczepanik: The Chiasmus
Basses Frequences / Sentient Recognition Archive

Co-released by French label Basses Frequencies and Nicholas Szczepanik's own Sentient Recognition Archive, The Chiasmus is the debut full-length by a young producer with a keen ear for drone- and ambient-based sound construction. An hour-long blend of analog drones, field recording elements, and modestly-applied digital processing, the CD is handsomely complemented by a sixteen-page booklet of photographs by Avery McCarthy. Szczepanik evidences an exceptionally assured hand in his controlled shaping of the materials and in the changes in dynamics that occur throughout a given piece; in place of abrupt ruptures there are undulating segues that are executed so subtly as to be almost subliminal.

The album is framed by micro-second stabs of “pointillistic noise,” the first one registering as little more than a surprising opening gesture, the second less welcome since it shatters the controlled ambiance the final piece painstakingly cultivates for nearly nineteen minutes. In “Another End of New,” field recordings of subdued natural and industrial sounds blossom into a wavering drone that asserts itself loudly before gradually decompressing in finely-executed manner. In contrast to the subtly ominous character of the opening piece, the second, “We Define Everything in Desperation,” is an ambient meditation of hazy and tranquil shimmer that soothes in its melding of soft, flute-like tones. Though both hold up well as stand-alone pieces, they're slightly dwarfed by the final three tracks, each one of which cracks the ten-minute barrier. True to its title, “Temporary Inundation of Sleep by Open Windows” periodically shifts the focus away from its central pulsating drone to intrusive episodes (such as an intensifying field recordings mass and reverberant industrial cloud) that periodically challenge it for dominance before it eventually reaches its restful destination. The fourth piece,“The Silhouette's of a Winter's Sunset,” at first positions itself as an ambient setting of willowy and gossamer character but gradually shape-shifts into a drone wrapped in field recording elements and that ever-so-gradually expands into a rumbling colossus before it too peacefully subsides. “Lose Yourself...” is not only the album's longest but also its most beautiful setting, with Szczepanik stretching low-level ambient tendrils for minutes at a time across the track's nineteen-minute expanse. The track's material becomes almost symphonic when its waves lull the listener into a state of blissful calm—which makes the closing noise salvo all the more objectionable when it occurs.

Calling the pieces drones does the settings somewhat of a disservice when there is so much more development and activity in play than is suggested by the label. Even when a single tone dominates (at the beginning of “Temporary Inundation of Sleep by Open Windows,” for example), ample activity is clearly audible beneath the surface, whether it be pulsating undertones or hints of volcanic restlessness. Truth be told, I haven't yet determined out how the title aligns with the music (a chiasmus involves the reversal in word order in two otherwise parallel phrases, such as “He went to the country, to the town went she”) but, as with pretty much all music of abstract character, whether the connection is made or not is moot when it's the sounds that matter most.

October 2009