Craig Hilton/Tomas Phillips: Le goût de néant

Le Goût de néant (The Taste for Nothingness), a collaborative venture from laptop musician Tomas Phillips and guzheng player Craig Hilton (credited with laptop too), takes as its starting point a solo guzheng improvisation and then expands upon it using various laptop-based treatments (the album title, by the way, comes from Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal [Flowers of Evil]).

Being a studio recording for solo guzheng (a Chinese plucked zither with between 18-23 strings), the opening piece, “Sans Mouvement I,” presents the album's music at its purest; the three pieces that follow utilize the opener's material and via laptop-based manipulations both add to it and strip it down to minimal form. Not that the opening setting is lacking in sonic richness, however, as the guzheng alone is capable of generating immense clouds of complex tonality, and for ten minutes, Hilton creates a thick bed of keening ambient-drone material using overlays to produce the track's density. The computer's presence is evident from the first moments of “Sans Mouvement II” when the piece begins with a waterfall of tiny crackling sounds and then proceeds to scatter tiny pops across its guzheng surfaces, but the recording's most explorative setting arrives when the title track ventures far and wide for twenty-four minutes. After opening with an arresting array of rustles, clanks, and piano-based sprinkles, the piece moves the guzheng material to the forefront, opening it up to all manner of interplay between the instrument's bowed and plucked tones and an extensive array of textural elements contributed via laptop. Inhabiting a far bleaker zone is the final piece, “Sans Mouvement III,” where speckles and groaning tones find themselves cloaked in a shroud of gloom, and the mood grows ever more macabre when scrapes and other disturbed noises suggest dead souls dragging themselves through underground tunnels. Of all the album's tracks, it's the final one that most clearly embodies the spirit of Baudelaire's title.

As far as the range of possible sounds is concerned, those working within the field of experimental electronic music hardly find themselves constrained in any way, shape, or form—the sonic possibilities are obviously limitless. Nevertheless, the idea of adding traditional acoustic instrument sounds to the digital mix adds another rich dimension to the possible sound-worlds that can be generated when explorative artists such as Phillips and Hilton are involved.

September 2011