Damian Valles: Fixtures
Left (Field) Recordings

Damian Valles: The Waves That Destroy

Ontario, Canada-based Damian Valles has got two new recordings on offer and, though available in small runs only, are well worth tracking down. Valles produces ambient-experimental compositions generated from heavily processed electric guitar, field recordings, percussion, piano, and assorted other sound sources. On the basis of that brief description alone, the reader will infer, not incorrectly, that his work complements that of his fellow sound-sculptors thisquietarmy, Aidan Baker, Simon Scott, and Jasper TX. The longer recording of the two, Fixtures, appears in a cassette format (fifty numbered copies available) courtesy of the Melbourne, Australia label Left (field) Recordings, while the other, The Waves That Destroy, is presented in a three-inch format in a limited run of 100 copies.

One of Fixtures' most appealing things is its variety. Though Valles works with a consistent array of instruments throughout, he tackles different styles and moods in the album's nine settings, some of them panoramic and uplifting, others lonely, black-hearted, and claustrophobic. The venomous opener “Black Locust” comes into being as a coiled electrical drone until light breaks through, briefly illuminating the ruined landscape, before a crushing mass of distortion spreads across the terrain. Shuddering ripples grow ever more molten as the track unfolds, helping to turn it into an exercise in contrast between oppression and liberation. In stark contrast to that piece, “Adzes” directs one's gaze to the skies for four minutes of cosmic transmissions. “Winter Clusters” wends a ponderous and rather gothic path with acoustic guitar as its guide and piano and percussion creating a clangorous background as it does so. Valles brings an almost symphonic grandeur to the album's longest piece, “Terra Incognita,” though a grandeur realized using muffled waves of vaporous drones and swells. The album material mixes natural and industrial dimensions, in one place evoking a bleak outdoors setting and in another the relentless churn of factory machinery, and in some cases the two tendencies seamlessly merge (e.g., “Bird's Mouth”). Valles covers a lot of ground in the recording's nearly hour-long running time, making Fixtures an essential and summative chapter in his discography.

An installment in Hibernate's new Postcard Series, The Waves That Destroy is a single-track, twenty-minute setting that develops unhurriedly, with its multiple layers accruing at a natural pace. They gradually come together, initially appearing in a drone-like wave form that rises through a dense thrum of rippling textures and field recordings (a motif of panning clicks suggestive of train clatter) u ntil swelling into a wall-of-sound swarm. Various elements—guitar figures, string-like swirls, piano ripples, etc.—extricate themselves from the whole, positioning themselves at the forefront of the cyclonic mass. During its second half, the temperature and intensity levels drop somewhat, allowing tinkles and the clattering figure to be heard more clearly, until the piece eases itself out with a few well-placed guitar plucks as its guide. The Waves That Destroy follows a tried-and-true trajectory in first scaling a peak and descending gradually thereafter, but it's a remarkable trip nonetheless, and it forms a pleasing complement to Fixtures ' relatively shorter pieces.

June 2011