The Open Sea

Unusual item by Poor Isa, a duo of two Belgian fellows Frederik Leroux and Ruben Machtelinckx. On Let’s Drink The Sea and Dance (ASPEN EDITIES ASPEN 007) they perform nine compositions, based around their set-up of prepared banjos and wood blocks.

The interest isn’t so much around ordinary music-making and improvisation and seems more to do with sound generation; from just playing the instruments, certain elements emerge which they like, so they repeat them and keep on taking a little further. One aspect of this compositional approach is that it enables them to discover hidden sounds, which can be surfaced through patient effort as they coax and brush. There’s a lot of silence and open space here for sure, but it would be wrong to mistake this quality for hesitancy. In among the spectral scrapings and lovely percussive plocks, you can tell Poor Isa are confidently experimenting in a sound laboratory of their own making. It’s not an especially easy listen. Even calling them “compositions” is something I baulk at, as each piece feels sketchy and incomplete to me, and it’s hard to pick up the phrases, or make these disconnected statements into anything meaningful. Every so often however they allow themselves to emit a mournful, hollow drone effect (heaven knows how it’s being produced) which is more engaging at an emotional level.

The package is a tri-fold digipak on high-quality card, the better to present the gentle but poignant watercolour paintings of Philippe Vandenberg (a Belgian modernist painter described by his followers as neo-expressionist), whose visual work also inspired the title of this album. For those of you seeking a bit of profundity, a T.S. Eliot quote is printed here too. From 17 June 2019.

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