After the UK-based University of York Music Research Center invited Taylor Deupree in late 2009 to participate in an artist residency program (the idea being to produce something he couldn't create in his own studio), the 12k head learned that the university had in its collection Javanese and Balinese gamelan instruments. This discovery helped crystallize the residency project into an album created using the instruments in conjunction with an audio-looping program in the Kyma programming language. All of which sounds promising enough but what makes Shoals a fascinating recording isn't the sounds Deupree generated playing gamelan instruments but rather how he played them. True to his explorative nature, the sound artist eschewed playing them in the traditional manner and instead focused on the timbral possibilities offered by the instruments' surfaces, which he scraped, tapped, and played with an eBow to generate the loops that would eventually form the core of the recording's four pieces. Incidental sounds that were picked up by the studio microphones (such as Deupree moving about the space) also found their way into Shoals' final form. Having compiled many hours of loops during the residency, Deupree returned to his 12k studio to shape the materials into the four serene settings, with each one based around one of the loops.
The meditative result is a thing of quiet beauty and slow dazzle that features a constantly mutating array of shimmering currents and speckled percussive detail. The entrancing title track begins the album with eleven placid minutes of soft swells of tones and hiss, and tiny aquatic sounds dotting the sonic landscape. “Rusted Oak” features blurry rustling sounds that suggest a distant stream rushing by, and Deupree brings the same sensitivity here as he does elsewhere in shaping the even-toned elements into a nuanced whole. During “A Fading Found,” slivers of subdued resonating sound—voice snippets, soft harp-like strums, a radiant sunlit pool where micro-organisms whistle and chatter—are so evocative, one can almost feel the humidity of the summer's day, and in the final setting, “Falls Touching Grasses,” a constant stream of accents—pings, rustlings, knocks, and so forth—flows across an organ-like drone which swells and hums for a dozen minutes. Listeners who have tracked Deupree's development during the last decade won't be surprised by the imaginative ‘solution' he posed to the residency experience, nor by the uniqueness of the warm and organic sound world captured on Shoals. It's a fine addition to a distinguished discography by an electronic producer who has repeatedly shown himself to be a singular and special artist.