Damian Valles: Nonparallel (In 4 Movements)

Three years in the making, Nonparallel (In 4 Movements) represents a bold departure from the music the Kawartha Lakes-based Valles has previously issued. In contrast to the guitar-oriented recordings that preceded it, the new one is built entirely from samples of recordings of avant-garde Western classical composers and computer music issued by Nonesuch during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Randomly chosen bits and pieces by Elliot Carter, William Bolcom, and Charles Ives, among others, were plundered and then thoroughly altered through cropping, rearranging, stretching, and so on until the album's four impenetrably dense settings resulted. By purposefully extracting the samples from original vinyl editions, Valles also enabled the surface noise of crackle and grime to seep into the recording, a fitting move in that it establishes a physical connection to the recordings themselves, not just their contents. But trainspotters intent on cataloguing the particular works drawn upon may find themselves at a loss, given the radical degree of transformation that Valles has applied to them. Few recognizable instrument sounds remain—a chord here, a scrape there—, a move that suggests that Valles isn't interested in quotation so much as mutation.

The opening section starts like a car engine turning over before blossoming into a full-throated churn of industrial thrum and combustion. The material presents itself as a controlled roar of crackling noise textures, and, having reached a certain level of intensity, remains steadily at that level for the remainder of the trip. After a moment's pause, the second part picks up where the first leaves off, like one runner passing its relay baton to another. It, too, gradually builds in volume until it becomes an incessantly seething machine powered by cycling rhythms and within which buried traces of melodic materials can be glimpsed; jump to the halfway mark of the section and you could find yourself stunned by the intensity of its attack. Sensitive to the need for contrast, Valles pitches the third section at a lower level, this time easing the listener in more gently but retaining the same commitment to density. The material comes at the listener in vaporous waves, with scrapes recurring within the billowing mass, until halfway through a slab of volcanic noise briefly emerges to take the level up another notch. The final part crackles like a rattlesnake readying to strike, as it slowly coalesces into a deafening drone before decompressing.

The recording can be seen in various ways, as a fascinating exploration of textural density as opposed to conventional melodic structure and also as an exercise in exhumation, reverence, and hauntology, with the composers rising from the ashes of the obscured samples. Valles is less player here than ethnomusicologist, historian, and anthropologist. But Nonparallel (In 4 Movements) is no backwards-looking exercise. The mere fact that the originating materials have been so radically transformed that they're rendered unidentifiable means that the goal here is to forge that material into something new rather than nostalgically pine for days gone by. It is, admittedly, a Proustian remembrance of things past but one manifested indirectly.

July-August 2012