Collin Thomas: Stones/Still
Collin Thomas

In our mid-2009 review of Windows/Walks by Kansas City-based experimental musician and composer Collin Thomas, we noted that isn't a “pure” field recordings collection (even though such sounds dominate) due to the marked presence of musical elements. Much the same can be said of Thomas's follow-up Stones/Still, which departs from its predecessor by sharpening its conceptual focus: the new recording pairs minimal musical accompaniment with field recordings captured at cemeteries. It's an ideal choice for the field recordist as, far from being bereft of sonic detail, the site presents a rich multitude of natural sound despite the seeming stillness of the setting. The album's five pieces can be experienced as if they're sonic transmissions for the silenced voices resting peacefully below ground.

As mentioned, Stones/Still isn't a field recordings project in the purest sense, as Thomas, with admirable circumspection, threads musical elements into the settings. During the opening “Blackjack.afternoon,” for example, droning chords, piano figures, and muffled percussive accents surface amidst the chirping of birds, buzzing of flies, flow of a river, and ambient convulsions of indeterminate character. “Pioneer.morning” juxtaposes natural sounds of crows cawing, birds chirping, and traffic noises with piano playing and electronic treatments, while “Vinland.evening” dots the whirr and thrum of nocturnal insect life with single piano accents. Certain sounds naturally recur, given the cemetery setting that's common to all five of the album's pieces. Thomas avoids the more obvious approach which would see him fashion funereal settings filled with gloom, opting instead for settings of peaceful and bucolic character. The closest the material gets to suggesting dread occurs when “Prairiecity.afternoon” presents drifting chords that exude some small degree of portent.

The album inhabits a middle ground, then, between being a field recordings and musical project, and Thomas shows restraint in determining how those musical elements are distributed so that the balance doesn't tip too greatly in one direction more than the other. Stones/Still should be listened to through headphones (or a high-quality surround system) and at high volume in order to reap the most from its multi-dimensional material. Experienced as such, the album becomes immersive and transporting all at once.

December 2010