Liquid Shoulders

Batch from the fine Polish label Sublime Retreat, who previously brought us Invisible Light by Alfred Costa Moneiro and Der Golem by 900RPM.

Edoardo Cammisa’s album bears the odd title of io_u,E (SUBLIME RETREAT sr007), which may seem puzzling until you find the central track is called ‘i owe you,’ and is followed by a piece called simply ‘E’. There’s also the message printed inside the gatefold, “I owed myself dignity / This is a Study of My Own Identity”. The bleak music contained in the grooves is equally hermetic, comprising various cold and anonymous sounds layered together in a perplexing array. These inhuman and alien effects gradually coalesce into unknown forms, wholly abstract, until we’re really not sure what we’re experiencing; the rising shapes in the mist might be hostile giants, or friendly bears. I like this kind of mind-sapping, reality-altering music, as if the composer were performing a very extreme social experiment rather than just making another album. We’re told Cammisa realised the work using analogue synthesisers, spring reverb, microphones, field recordings, no-input mixing, organ, and sampler – a fairly common method in fact, in today’s environment, but what I enjoy hearing here is the constant tension soaking through these delicate drones, the vague hint of horror. If he is indeed making a study of his own identity, then the enigma of Edoardo remains an enigma, his deep personal mystery unresolved by these questing drones.

Mahler Haze is a lot more maximal on his Riverine (SR004) set, unlike Cammisa who said all he wanted in less than 30 mins. Five quite lengthy tracks, leading off with the 19-minute ‘The Illusion of Structure’, which is packed with shimmering layers of sonic event. It conveys the solidity of the imaginary structure he depicts, yet we also feel as if this 500-foot tower of steel could just as easily disappear like a mirage in the sun. Like Cammisa, he favours a vaguely hallucinatory trance-like state, except that his tones are much warmer. Another thing I like about ‘The Illusion of Structure’ is the sense of gathering chaos, sounds getting progressively crazier. Same sense of overload on ‘Sceapige’, with its relentless forward-moving of large droning blocks of sound; and the delirious ‘Het Speelbos’, which suggests a jet-plane flight spinning out of control. Mahler Haze wishes to evoke both psychedelic and kosmische vibes in his rich music; the label press promises that “Riverine unravells a lengthy ribbon which contains many unknown and semi-familiar aspects of Time, Purpose, Reason and Clarity.”

In contrast to that, here’s Bruno Duplant with one of his characteristically ultra-minimal compositions. Paysages Sans Âge III (SR005) is packaged with a bleak snowy forest image on the cover (almost something we’d expect from the Cold Black Metal genre) and some lines of text referring to fog, rocks, bones, stones, cliffs, and milky expanses. Herein are numbers 5 and 6 in what I assume is the composer’s ongoing series, and part five is divided into two parts lasting precisely 15 minutes each. Since Duplant has previously exhibited a very extreme and uncompromising approach to his work, resulting in near-silent records, I’m pleased to find this one is a lot more accessible. Both parts of ‘Paysage No. 5’ offer a restrained and calming synth drone (very suggestive of the cold landscape on the cover), sometimes punctuated with sparing and judiciously placed piano notes. Why, in places, we might almost be hearing melody and harmony, elements which I’ve not encountered on previous Duplants. The piano notes, when heard, are so poignant and brief that they sting your ears like cold metal, and also act as reference points for the ear on what might otherwise be a blank landscape, the horizon line indiscernible in the cold and fog. ‘Paysage No. 6’ exhibits the same slow-moving soundscape-y drone, but this time with a distant chittering sound as of cicadas or wood-boring beetles, and the synth and piano – in a very undramatic manner, of course – blend together to form cloudy suggestions of mixed chords. With the simplest of means, Duplant stirs deep emotions.

Paolo Ielasi’s album is another rather enigmatic one, from its provocative title Why Are You Talking So Loud? (SR003) to its insert of photographs depicting in tasteful black-and-white various odd details of pastoral scenes, village interiors, nature, pre-industrial buildings, and decay; perhaps lamenting the passing of some more innocent time. All six pieces are untitled and comprise major-key droning delivered in a wistful manner, sometimes overlaid with additional texture (including contributions from guest Francesco Castello on one track). To his credit, Ielasi usually does everything in a single take (combining the music with field recordings), and foregoes any studio processing. The pieces of music are linked to the photographs in his mind, and he evidently sees life as an integrated process of travelling, observing, reflecting, and recording – all of which feeds into the finished work. As further indication of a long maturation process, today’s record is in fact an anthology drawn from his personal collection of earlier pieces, and he spent a lot of time making a very careful selection, and editing to create very precise durations. The album title refers to the everyday “noise” of modern life that affects us all, including all the overload of information that arrives via laptop and smartphone, and Paolo Ielasi proposes solitude and contemplation as his personal solution.

Cassette by Tanto also has an odd title /?ði.o/ (SR006) and offers a good 90 mins of crumbly listening pleasure spread over two sides. Intriguing…unlike some of the outboarders listed above, Tanto doesn’t care about rough edges, presenting a slightly more primitive and abrasive sound. He also seems to be feeling his way like an outsider wandering within unknown territory, or a blind man exploring a room…all of these are good qualities, and tend to make this tape a compelling listen with its mysterious by-ways and shifting episodes. I like the precarious sensations here…not that Tanto is interested in creating an atmosphere of menace or tension, but simply that his actual sound feels about as friable as the soil in a bad garden, hardly able to cling together long enough to grow a single bulb. Tanto, making his solo debut (and a very creditable one) on record here, also provided the non-descript artworks made with burnt plants, and the record is described by the label press as “meticulously composed imaginary soundscapes”. This cassette relies to some extent on its long duration for its success; it requires a certain amount of self-immersion before it begins to weave its magnetic spell.

All the above from 14 July 2021.