Deaf Center: Pale Ravine

Norwegians Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland (aka Deaf Center) take a huge step beyond their Neon City EP with the stunning Pale Ravine, a 52-minute suite of twelve haunted soundscapes. Though the term 'cinematic' is often thrown about cavalierly, it definitely applies here, and in more unique manner than the norm. Usually the term connotes 'wide-screen ambiance' but in Deaf Center's case it means disturbing, with the vertiginous experience of listening to Pale Ravine aurally kin to watching a harrowing horror film. In “Loft,” knocking noises suggest shadowy images of a serial killer stalking prey while abstract noises evoke the writhing shuffles of the deranged and perhaps crippled murderer.

Once again blending elements of classical and electronic musics, Skodvin and Totland coil their dark clusters of strings around the listener so tightly, the effect verges on suffocating. The duo deepens the sinister ambiance with field elements (flies buzzing, storm noises) and sounds of rusty machinery, battered records, and dusty pianos. Throughout the collection, guttural cello scrapings, string stabs, and bell tinklings converge into noirish streams of dense velvety ambiance. “Weir” even exudes a strong industrial character until its pulsing loops drown under the gargantuan bulk of string masses. In the portentous “Thread,” thunderous crackle smothers string-drenched smears, with knife-edged tones ringing forth as they dartingly escape the broiling mass below. Yet while Skodvin and Totland prove themselves masterful sculptors of ominous ambiance, they're smart enough to leaven the darkness with sunlight too. They follow “Thread” with “White Lake,” a macabre waltz whose solemn piano themes and acoustic bass diametrically depart from the threatening atmospheres preceding it. Similarly, the duo closes the set with “Eloy,” a gentle coda that rescues the listener from the dark Poe-like pit inhabited by the other material. Play Pale Ravine at night with the lights off and your dreams will be disturbed, if, that is, you'll be able to sleep at all.

November 2005