VA: A Cleansing Ascension
Elevator Bath

Jim Haynes: Eraldus / Eravaldus
Elevator Bath

Rick Reed: Dreamz / Blue Polz
Elevator Bath

Anyone new to Elevator Bath's offerings could do a whole lot worse than initiate the relationship with A Cleansing Ascension, the Seattle-based label's first compilation release. The seventy-three-minute collection is notable on other counts too: the release celebrates the label's ten years of existence—no small accomplishment for an experimental imprint—plus its ten pieces are almost all exclusives by distinguished artists such as Keith Berry, Francisco López, and Adam Pacione, among others. The pieces range from beatific ambient settings and field recordings to industrial drones and aggressive experimentalism.

In Matt Shoemaker's opening “Waning Ataraxia,” a vaporous mass patrols the countryside like some low-flying, marauding colossus. Considerably less gloomy and oppressive by comparison is Pacione's “Soilbind Morning Glory” which, in its thoroughly abstract manner, conjures a blissful, spring-time mood in its hazy evocation of day dawning. Elsewhere on the ambient front, Colin Andrew Sheffield lets billowing clouds drift through “For Today,” Berry's dream-like “Toward the Blue Peninsula” presents a slow-motion, misty evocation, and Tom Recchion's “Drift Tube” offers a glimmering exeunt that, stripped of its gauzy coating, could pass for some Eno ambient drum-machine experiment from the ‘70s.

In terms of soundscapes, Jim Haynes pairs the rumble and grind of what sounds like a rusty old engine with glassy tonal shimmer in “Like a Thief in the Night,” and fragments of ghostly whistles and deep exhalations intermingle during Dale Lloyd's “Our Morphosis.” It's hard not to think of Philip Jeck when the corroded scrapes of decaying vinyl ripple alongside insect buzzing and static during James Eck Rippie's “Hidden Mirrors,” and in López's chaotic “Untitled #194,” churning rhythm patterns gallop and careen through a war-zone of explosions and ammo-fire. Rick Reed's “The Fiery Sound of Light” merges electronic fireworks with a swarm of darting glissandi and bass-level choral hum. He makes full use of the track's ten-minute running time by packing in episodes of space shuttle drones, industrial smears, and a closing mix of buzzes, clicks, and pops. Overall, A Cleansing Ascension provides a sterling overview of Elevator Bath's current musical activity.

Reed and Haynes also receive individual exposure in the form of 12-inch picture discs with four twenty-minute settings distributed across their sides. Watching the multi-hued patterns swirl definitely complements the listening experience in these cases, given how already transporting the aural material is to begin with. The artworks adorning Reed's disc come from two paintings created by the Austin-based artist himself, an active visual arts figure for over two decades. “Dreamz” (originally produced as the soundtrack for a live display by film-maker Ken Jacobs, the piece was performed live by the two at the 2007 New York Film Festival) unspools relaxedly as an ethereal, crystalline drone shaded with semi-industrial overtones. Throughout the side-long piece, multiple high-pitched whirrs rise and fall while an undulating base softly churns below. “Blue Polz” (originally conceived as a kind of alternate soundtrack to a piece by film-maker Fred Worden) introduces some quieter moments into the mix before coming into focus as a lulling, softly whirring dronescape, and often resembles intra-galaxial transmissions resounding through the upper spheres. All sounds on the release were created using a modicum of means, specifically an EMS Synthi A, two sine wave generators, and a shortwave radio, and the results sound thoroughly contemporary yet also reminiscent of early electronic music pieces.

Both sides of Haynes' 12-inch also feature full-color reproductions of visual works by the artist that look as if they've been dipped in chemical baths (the artwork derives from two corroded photographs created by the San Francisco resident using a process he's worked with for almost fifteen years). Haynes created his two pieces, “Eraldus” and “Eravaldus,” using manipulated field recordings of a lighthouse, high-tension wires, sand, and other sounds which were then transformed into industrial-strength meditations that agitatedly rustle, ripple, shiver, and grind. Side B's “Eravaldus” rises from its windswept moorings to become an insistent, clockwork automaton that whirrs and churns in equal measure. His production methodology is therefore radically different from Reed's but the two releases' shared focus on deeply textured, drone-like sound design makes them a natural pair. All three of these releases speak highly for the quality of Elevator's Bath output and enhance its reputation as an experimental music label well worth investigating.

January 2009