The Norman Conquest / Agnes Szelag:
nadir / ZENIT
A synthesizer can generate no shortage of squiggly noises but in the right hands can also channel feeling in the most powerful way imaginable. Norman Teale (aka The Norman Conquest) and Agnes Szelag show themselves to be fully capable of wringing emotion from their respective gear on this split release, which features twenty-minute settings by each artist. Both pieces were created using vintage analog synthesizers—an ARP Axxe for The Norman Conquest's “nadir” and a Sequential Circuits Pro One for Szelag's “ZENIT”—that were recorded to analog tape and involved multiple layers of multi-tracking. The resultant sound-worlds are panoramic in scope and exude grandeur, despite being products of single instruments.
A study in controlled development, “nadir” scales its mountain ever so patiently, enveloping its listener in swelling folds of synthetic tones as it does so. In this mesmerizing setting, the funereal mood conjured by the Tulsa-born Teale is suffused with melancholy and could even be called mournful. Long, stately tendrils of varying pitch resonate vibrantly as they gather into multi-tiered formation and work their way slowly to a supplicating resolution. The mournful ambiance established by “nadir” carries over into the opening moments of “ZENIT,” but Szelag quickly amplifies the mood by infusing the material with an aggressive attack that grows ever more wide-ranging in design. At times the music hurtles forward while at other moments slows to near-stillness, its surging sputter reduced to a crawl. An arresting juxtaposition emerges during the second half when a lone voice weakly emits querulous phrases that lava-like waves constantly threaten to smother before the end, mournful once again, arrives.
That these individually engrossing pieces sound so complementary shouldn't come as a major surprise: the one-time Mills College graduates operate together as Dokuro, a name under which they issued The Black Room EP on Aphonia Recordings in 2008. Szelag's also a well-known quantity in these pages as the electro-acoustic material she issues under her own name has been reviewed at textura before, as has the superb work she's produced in collaboration with Myrmyr partner Marielle Jakobsons.