M.Templeton & aA.Munson: Acre Loss

Though Anticipate's latest release weighs in at an economical thirty-nine minutes, Acre Loss is presented in both CD and DVD formats, enabling one to experience it as a musical collaboration between Mark Templeton and aAron Munson or as an audio-video collection of ten short films co-authored by the duo. Satisfying in either mode, the release weaves outdoor imagery of wintry Albertan landscapes with natural field recording elements and ambient guitar shadings into vivid, richly-detailed tapestries. Kitchen clatter and the babble of crowd conversation intermittently surfaces too, grounding the material in everyday human experience.

No recording in recent memory invites the “sound paintings” label as strongly as does Acre Loss. Scattering materials across the visual and sonic fields like Jackson Pollock throwing paint onto canvas, Templeton and Munson build up layers of effects until multi-hued arrangements of intricate design gradually come into focus and cumulatively bring into being the envisioned scenes. Extending the painterly metaphor further, some of the release's ten tracks function like sketches (“too small,” “small one”), whereas others approximate large-scale collages (“looking Northward”). While the music is assembled using accordion, bass, synthesizer, percussion, and various effects, guitar is the central instrument (not surprisingly given Templeton's involvement) though it's hardly used in its conventional “soloing” capacity but more as a textural paintbrush. The range of sounds coaxed from the instrument can be arresting: cases in point, “aTest” sets the flutter and buzz of electrical tones adrift in lulling streams of crackle while “1 is to one as...” is speckled by clusters of guitar splinters. The ten-minute travelogue “looking Northward,” which adopts a heavier, industrial-tinged style that leans towards “kosmische musik” even in the absence of a rhythm section, includes shudders and shimmering clusters one could hear as a nod to kindred Anticipate artist Klimek, and in “this will pass” birds chirp amidst metronomic banjo and guitar plucks that slowly morph into a neo-psychedelic trot. In its quieter moments, Templeton's acoustic picking even calls to mind the gentle playing Ry Cooder brought to his celebrated Paris, Texas soundtrack.

On the DVD, the duo augments its intergalactic hoe-downs and starry-eyed drones with kinetoscopic footage of snowy Albertan landscapes, bridge structures and train tracks, and faded home movie footage. The music's natural feel comes strongly to the fore when aligned to images of the sun streaming through barren treetops and illuminating open fields and skies that seem to go on forever. Sounds and visuals often meld into one, with bleeding ripples of feedback paired with flurries of tree branch patterns in “contents are,” and brick and grid patterns tied to the stuttering march of streaming guitar lines during “it's ok to fall.” That this evocative release received funding from the Edmonton Arts Council seems perfectly apropos, given how powerfully Acre Loss's outdoor sounds and wintry footage will resonate with those who've experienced first-hand the snow-covered plains of western Canada. And even if you haven't, you'll still know what it's like to see the steam rising off frozen lakes and feel the soft crunch of freshly-fallen snow under your feet.

January 2009