Greg Davis: Somnia

What you won't find on Somnia : laptop folk tunes, campfire hymns, Beach Boys' homages—all of which can be heard to glorious effect on Davis's Arbor and Curling Pond Woods recordings. What you will find on Somnia: magnificent drones, equally satisfying as his other work if radically different in character. What makes the album especially fascinating is that Davis bases each piece on a single instrument yet transforms its sound so completely via computer that the result sometimes bears little resemblance to its origins. Reminiscent of 'Holy Minimalist' Arvo Pärt's “Pari Intervallo,” the becalmed organ tones in “Clouds As Edges (version 3 edit),” for example, are generated by a Gibson six-string acoustic guitar of all things, and who could possibly have imagined the harp-like shimmer and piercing tones in “Diaphanous (edit)” might come from a toy harmonica?

“Furnace” and “Archer” feature the kind of mesmerizing, cathedralesque swirls one conventionally associates with the drone concept yet the pieces are far from static; for example, “Archer,” its sounds originating from a bowed psaltery (a box-like stringed member of the zither family), grows denser and deeper as it evolves glacially towards its crescendo. In the spirit of Paul Schütze's “Sleep” tracks, “Campestral (version 2),” a twenty-two minute exercise in meditative ambience, exudes a similar kind of time-frozen stillness. Perhaps the most unusual piece is “Mirages (version 2)” whose mysterious whistles and moans (originating from a Schaaf punch card music box) simulate spirits drifting through some desolate landscape. Davis adheres to the drone concept throughout, but the album never lapses into one-dimensionality when contrasts dramatically differentiate one piece from another. While unlike his more accessible Carpark material, Somnia impresses as beautiful work that presents a compelling side of Davis not heard before.

October 2004