David Newlyn: Friday Night Choir Practice
Nigel Samways: Illumine
Either more and more labels are gravitating towards EP-length releases and the three-inch format, or it may simply be that we've been inundated with an inordinately large number of them in recent days. Even with the shorter running times, the format still gives the artist sufficient room to make a strong and memorable statement, as shown by the four releases reviewed here.
Enemy, Enemy, a curiously titled EP by the equally curiously named Automobile, Swift, almost became another member of the infamous ‘lost recordings' group when the split release of which it was a part went unreleased. Heat Death stepped in to rescue it from oblivion, and in so doing bestowed upon the masses fifty copies of William Basinski-styled ambient-drone material. Beyond the insistent thrum and surge in “Slow Ocean,” one hears the faint cry of sea gulls in the far distance. Whereas “An All Too Early Aguste” strips the sonic materials down to their skeletal tonal essence, “Her Head About the Room” digs into its church-like ambiance with a conviction that can't help but call Stars of the Lid to mind. Admittedly little new ground is trod here but taken on its own terms the release is certainly a satisfying enough addition to the genre, especially when flurries of ambient material crackle throughout “In the Company Of” and when the softly shimmering “Percival” takes the release out on such a blissfully becalmed note.
Though one can detect occasional evidence of influences in his work too, Jannick Schou appears to be carving out his own special niche in the genre with his Cylon releases, of which Cycle is an exceptionally fine example. A powerful emotional quality permeates its shorter first part, a dimension that comes most fully to the fore the more its string elements become audible, after which the second part unfolds mysteriously with tolling bells portending a dawn execution at a city's central square. Thick, rattling masses gradually drape themselves across the bells but not so completely that they disappear altogether, until they're supplanted by the sweeping flow of muffled orchestral tones (having the bells re-appear in the track's closing minutes gives it a satisfying sense of unity and closure too). The twenty-minute release's two haunting pieces nicely complement the material issued on this special composer's Dead Pilot Records release Resonanz.
English sound artist Nigel Samways follows up his two recent EPs (Poor Henrietta Marie and Silver Rain, Green Trees) with another for the Paris-based Taalem. Like the other two, the four-part Illumine blends field recording details and acoustic instrument sounds into hazy soundscapes whose contextualizing qualities are rendered indeterminate by Samways' blurry treatments. A case in point, the second part cultivates tranquility by wrapping softly whistling tones in a blanket of static and ripple; the third, brooding by comparison, buries its minimal piano figures under an even denser textural mass in a way that suggests the exhumed strains of an old ballad barely heard through the crackle of radio static. In smothering singing voices with a thick, organ-laced cloud, the fourth takes the density concept to an even further extreme, so much so that it illuminates just how much Samways' style is focused on both horizontal layering and linear development.
David Newlyn's Friday Night Choir Practice is the sole five-inch in the bunch but its tight conceptual focus lends it a three-inch feel; at thirty-three minutes, it's the longest of the group too. True to its title, the two-part work transports the listener to a night-time Durham cathedral where field recordings capture a typical choir rehearsal in process as well as numerous ambient sounds (rustlings, voices, a baby's babble). Angelic choral voices and church organ emerge from the ambient mist, sometimes separating themselves from it and at other times swallowed up by it. Listeners familiar with Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet might hear similarities between it and Newlyn's piece, specifically in the soothing effect induced by the singing and in the works' similarly time-suspending qualities. A dramatic shift occurs in the second part, however, when the Cathedral Transmissions curator blends the source materials into a blurry drone that largely smothers the individual sounds heard in part one (the clearest exception being the brief piano flourish which brings the piece to a close). Speaking of formats, Friday Night Choir Practice is one recording that could most benefit from a twelve-inch presentation, as its parts would naturally split onto two vinyl sides.