Yann Novak: Snowfall
Pinkcourtesyphone: A Ravishment of Mirror
New releases from Yann Novak's Dragon's Eye Recordings are always welcome in these parts, and these two latest ones (both issued in 500-CD runs) effectively uphold the label's penchant for experimental, micro-sound music-making. Novak's own Snowfall is an uninterrupted, hour-long work that forms one part of an ambitious audio-visual whole: first presented at Human Resources in Los Angeles, California and assembled from photographs and field recordings, Novak presented Snowfall as a durational performance (six hours in its presentation form) designed to capture the experience of isolation and stillness one might experience during an intense snowstorm.
But while the mist-covered material convincingly conveys the impression of snow endlessly falling, it's anything but static. Instead Novak's ambient dronescape mutates slowly, its focus subtly shifting between the muted howl of winds and the soft thrum generated by snow particles striking hard surfaces; such transitions occur so gradually as to be almost imperceptible, but they're definitely present. During the work's last third, organ tones flood the aural space to reinforce the impression of peacefulness and stability (though never so dominantly that they push the snow crackle out of the spotlight), before a carefully modulated intensification and then decompression occurs during the final ten minutes. Snowfall is an excellent example of granular micro-sound design, given that while the material remains dynamically pitched at the level of a controlled rumble, it's constantly evolving and always in motion.
A Ravishment of Mirror, the third album by LINE manager and sound artist Richard Chartier under the Pinkcourtesyphone name, explores a less hermetic world than Novak's. Inspired by Chartier's recently adopted home, Los Angeles, the album material was “(f)ormed from places, plastics, and particulars” and uses Hollywood's fixation on dreams, surface, and deception as its creative impetus. In this case, Chartier's Hollywood is the glamorous one of yesterday, one more associated with stars like Clift, Davis, Garbo, and Gable rather than the Clooneys and Streeps of today. The recording's dominant piece is its twenty-six-minute opener, “Why Pretend / The Desire of Absence / Faulty Connections,” which follows bravura flourishes with a controlled ebb-and-flow of whirring sounds, sea-sawing tones, whooshes, exhalations, and muffled detonations—a dream-like, industrial-glam drift of noir-like murmurs that, oddly, evokes feelings of loneliness, yearning, and desire.
In keeping with the album's City of Angels theme, “Falling Star (for P. Entwistle)” is titled after Millicent Lilian ‘Peg' Entwistle (1908-1932), a Welsh-born English actress who appeared in several Broadway productions and one posthumously released film, Thirteen Women. Chartier's ironic title can be taken to refer not only to the actress's possible career trajectory but also to the fact that she jumped to her death from the ‘H' on the Hollywood sign at just twenty-four. “62,000 Valentines (for T. Hunter),” on the other hand, presumably pays homage to American actor Tab Hunter (b. 1931), who starred in over forty films.
As different as they are, the album's four ghostly settings suggest that a prototypical Pinkcourtesyphone piece is less dronescape than shape-shifting soundscape collage. Undercurrents of decadence and corruption run through the material, too, in a way that alludes to the seamy underbelly of the city and the Hollywood Dream. Nevertheless, A Ravishment of Mirror is enticing and at certain moments as psychoactive as absinthe—in Chartier's own words, “a plastic organic unity ready to enfold and repackage you” and “(m)eant to be slowly sipped.”