Alex Cobb & Aquarelle:
Ben Fleury-Steiner: The Places That Find You
In this latest go-round of new Low Point releases, we begin with twenty-seven minutes of raw and aggressive ambient-drone material spread across two white vinyl sides in a limited-edition (300 copies) split disc from Ohio-based Alex Cobb (and Students of Decay label head) and Aquarelle (Rest + Noise label owner Ryan Potts). They're such a good match, the three tracks play more like collaborations than individual creations, even if Cobb's represented on the release by the opening two and Potts the closing third. The ineffable electro-acoustic sound world of the album's material is established from the outset during “Anamnesis” when what sound like electric guitar plucks swim within a shimmering flow of pops, crackle, and static, the whole subtly swelling and growing ever more vaporous as it develops. “The Body is the Mirror” perpetuates the ambient-drone character of “Anamnesis” though pushes the electrical pitch to a higher level, the music now expanding exponentially, it seems, by the second and growing into a spectacular fuzzball of grainy design that's positively Fenneszian. Anything but static, the material breathes with cosmic fire, its radiant tones lacerated halfway through by shards and beseiged by wave-like convulsions. Following a bright and glimmering opening where miniature clouds of crackle and static explode, “A Shifting Visage” alternates between episodes of textural calm and thunderous outburst. During the latter, impenetrable slabs hammer incessantly, their aggressiveness offset by placid piano patterns that emerge against a flickering organ drone backdrop. Eventually, the noise elements appear to win out, with the track plunging the listener into a vortex of blistering static and thrum, until sanity prevails and the piece exits in a state of blissed-out calm. On both sides, the creators' respective materials define themselves as ambient-drone but remain fervently in motion and are all the more engaging for being so. Cobb and Aquarelle certainly appear to be a simpatico pairing, given the degree to which their styles and approaches complement one another on this outing.
A couple of years ago, Hypnos Secret Sounds released Ben Fleury-Steiner's Drifts, and although it had been previously issued in 2005 on the Delaware-based composer's own Gears of Sand label, the association with Hypnos reveals much about the kind of material Fleury-Steiner produces in general and on his latest collection The Places That Find You. In keeping with the wistful tone of the album itself and its tracks (two of the five, for example, are named “A Silent Time” and “Memory”), the material is meditative electro-acoustic ambient in style and dream-like in character. Recorded between 2009 to 2011, The Places That Find You consistently evidences the refined touch of its creator in its nuanced sculpting of sound elements. Fleury-Steiner brings a slightly unusual slant to the recording by adding kalimba (thumb piano, if you prefer) to the requisite electronic gear and instruments (effects pedals and synths, among them) and by playing the kalmiba as one would a prepared guitar. But, in keeping with the deep ambient style of the material, the kalimba isn't presented as a solo instrument but is instead woven into the fabric of a pulsating drone-like mass. Particularly ear-catching is the eleven-minute title piece, wherein a buzzing electrical swarm agitatedly shimmers within a cavernous space while a variety of percussive crackle and bell tinklings maintains a steady punctuation throughout, after which “The Dreamlife of Birds” completes the journey with a vaporous, wave-like mass of soft vocal exhalations and processed sounds. The recording, available in an edition of 300 copies and in a white vinyl pressing, plays like an uninterrupted suite of forty minutes duration and seduces the ear with its equally expansive and immersive sound-world.