Félicia Atkinson: O-RE-GON
Autistici: Amplified Presence
Recorded in Portland, Oregon at Adam Selzer's Type Foundry Studio, O-RE-GON is, in a word, unique. Atkinson laid down the half-hour album's material on a single, rainy day in July 2010 as she was recovering from a Lyme disease she'd caught a week before. After Selzer presented her with all of the instruments she could use for the session, some she'd never played before (Fender rhodes, marimba, harmonium) and some she had (electric guitar, piano), Atkinson improvised the two fifteen-minute settings, recording one in the morning (“Grey & Green”) and one in the afternoon (“Green & Grey”). Springing up from the dark recesses and idiosyncratic well of Atkinson's mind, the material exudes a slightly sinister character, as if the disease she contracted can be heard emerging through her pores and seeping into the material being recorded. “Grey & Green” unfurls in a slow and steady drift of guitar strums and tremolo figures, with its creeping, cumulative twang and shudder augmented by an occasional vocal murmur and Fender rhodes punctuation. The overall sound of “Green & Grey” is denser, with Atkinson's monotone recitation of text from a Victor Hugo poem smothered by a thick blanket of droning guitar and keyboard tones. All of it has the character of dark and gothic dreamscaping, the sonic embodiment of psychic disturbance and inner turmoil. File under uneasy listening, as we sometimes say.
As he's done before (on 2008's 12k release Volume Objects, for example), David Newman (aka Autistici as well as Audiobulb's overseer) draws upon the sound-generating properties associated with real-world phenomena to create the ten pieces on his Amplified Presence collection. What results are appealing settings such as the pretty, lullaby-like overture “Automated Night Light” that, no matter how they came into being, charm on musical grounds first and foremost. A recurring strategy deployed by Newman—and one that works well and helps distinguish the album's material—is for the found materials to be paired with a conventional instrument, with the former providing a rich field of sounds within which the melodic qualities of the latter are given room to maneuver. “A Religion of Water and Air,” for example, finds piano notes dancing within a dense array of sampled elements, while the micro-metallic flutterings coursing through “A Bed of Powdered Glass” are humanized by the bent notes of acoustic bass playing.
One surprise or another awaits at every turn, and an original creative sensibility asserts itself repeatedly. “Attachment Type” proves ear-catching in fashioning a futuristic, electro-blues meditation wherein bleeps, squelches, and percussive creaks interweave amidst gaseous emissions and voice ululations. Amplified Presence parks itself squarely within the kind of territory one associates with the Line label when “Field” presents eleven minutes of insectoid micro-sound at its most fine-grained and hyperactive. The mix of wayward percussive clatter, clicks-and-clacks, and water dribbling Newman fashions for “A Religion of Water and Air” occasionally calls to mind Matmos, especially during the track's more rhythmically charged episodes. The Matmos connection also declares itself when “Tower Location” morphs from an experimental setting dotted with clomping footsteps and electrical noises to a thumping techno cut that wouldn't sound out of place in the club. To his credit, Newman isn't precious about his sources either. One naturally presumes that the wavering choir of organ-like drones intoning throughout “Vocal Chords,” for instance, is voice-generated, and it doesn't require a whole lot of imagination to figure out the source material for “Slow Rotor Sensory Loop” and “Slow Fluorescence” either. What matters isn't so much the originating material, of course, but what production steps were taken for Newman to shape the track into its completed form and, most importantly, the final result taken on its own terms.
Devotees of finely wrought moodscaping of the electro-acoustic ambient kind would likely regard a collaboration between David Wenngren (from Gävle, Sweden and of Library Tapes renown) and Christopher Bissonnette (Canadian composer known for his two kranky album, 2005's Periphery and 2008's In Between Words) as cause for celebration, and The Meridians of Longitude and Parallels of Latitude lives up to whatever expectations said devotees might bring to it. In five long-form settings, the duo fashion immersive drone meditations using field recordings and acoustic (percussion, piano, strings) and electronic source materials of various kinds. After the opening drone “A Deceptive and Distant Howl” swells in intensity almost imperceptibly before a rapid decompression alleviates the tension, “Burn Like a Meteor and Leave No Dust,” like something assembled from manipulated field recordings of primeval geological activity and amplified weather recordings, inhales and exhales for eleven minutes, with micro-speckles and gauzy rumblings providing ample scenic detail during the trip. Generally placid in nature, “Their Hunted Expression” eases the album out with multi-layered waves that conjure forth all manner of textural detail during their repeated surges.
Don't be misled by the hints of violence and aggression provided by the track titles, even if words such as howl, wild, burn, and hunted suggest that the duo's creations are abrasive and charged with noise. Though undercurrents of disturbance are definitely present—consider the thick blanket of hiss and ominous storm clouds passing overhead during “A Wild Tonic in The Rain” as proof of that—the material doesn't fray one's nerves but instead proves to be transporting and also relatively calming. While there are a few instances where one of the contributors' signature styles comes to the forefront, such as when haunted strings in “In His Ghostly Heart” nudge the album into a gloom-laden ambient-classical zone that's reminiscent of Wenngren's Library Tapes style, much of the album merges their individuating tendencies into a true hybrid.