Alexander Turnquist: Apneic
Kning Disk

Alexander Turnquist: Faint at the Loudest Hour

Faint at the Loudest Hour is the remarkably accomplished debut of guitar virtuoso Alexander Turnquist. Though he's not the first to merge acoustic playing (six- and twelve-string guitars and lap steel) and electronics, he shows himself to be a markedly tasteful practitioner of the genre with treatments kept to a minimum. A celestial cloud of Fenneszian haze floats through the middle of “Amongst a Swarm of Hummingbirds,” for instance, but more often than not Turnquist keeps the focus on the wondrous sound of his pure fretwork. The material is full of breathtaking episodes but he isn't averse to slowing things down to near-stillness either when necessary. Sparkling guitar lattices loop hypnotically in a manner that's occasionally reminiscent of an Indian raga or Glass-styled minimalism. Turnquist's compositions never settle into predictable patterns, however, but change direction repeatedly during the album's four long pieces (which surpass the ten-minute mark). Glistening strums in “White Out” exude a classical feel, while a more ambient disposition emerges in the tranquil opening of “Water Spots Upon My Mind” when its opening four minutes are dedicated to gently flowing tones that abruptly give way to dynamic showers of guitar clusters. Vibes and piano add touches of colour but are used sparingly with Turnquist more intent on exploring the guitar's potential; its body becomes a percussive arsenal in the showstopper “Mime Fight” where Turnquist's full range of technique is displayed.

The more meditative release of the two, Apneic (“apnea” is defined as “temporary absence or cessation of breathing”) contains an exceptionally beautiful trio of pieces Turnquist created in two improv sessions using acoustic instruments, old tape recorders, and an electronically-channeled cell phone. Though it's short at thirty-five minutes, Apneic's contents are substantial enough that the release never feels too short. Two pieces frame a central, twenty-three dronescape: “Idle Nightmare” opens the album with glistening picking and entrancing cycles while “$130” closes it with tolling chimes. In “Electric Lines,” long flowing streams slowly build in intensity until, at the halfway mark, percussive pings and tolling chords swell in volume, turning the piece into an immense, opaque mass of lulling tones and textures. The piece takes a beautiful left turn with three minutes remaining when acoustic guitar picking supplants the drone, and then abruptly changes character a final time when the guitar morphs into extended vaporous tones. Kning Disk issued Apneic in a limited-run of 150 copies but, needless to say, music of such high quality deserves to be distributed far more widely.

February 2008