Joe Evans is a sound artist based in southern England. A local champion of experimental music, he releases his own and that of other like minds on his Runningonair and Spectropol imprints. He also currently co-organises the Ologies series of experimental music events in Winchester, a British university town where, as he says, “there (previously) seemed to be hardly any experimental live music”.
Evan’s last album, Septimal (2014), focused on autoharp improvisations based on intervals derived from the 7th harmonic: “poor relations”, as Evans wrote, “of intervals derived from the 3rd & 5th harmonics, fighting for space on an otherwise occupied keyboard.” Yet, as he admitted, the “taps, bumps, string scrapes and other mechanical noises (that) make up so much of (the autoharp’s) character” often made “the tuning…far less relevant…, although always present.”
Elemental States was equally conceptual in genesis, and is equally grounded and palpable in effect. In its conception, Evans ‘metaphorically’ paired elements – fire, earth, water and air – with states of matter and prime numbers. He then realised each piece by recording “metallic pitch sources” – household objects made of glass or metal, which he blended with his own archive of field recordings, some dating back to the 1980s. Only the last piece, “Ether 11 Virtual”, is presented in purely electronic form, as “an imagined virtual state of matter”. The result is a still, slow-paced or even static experience, which you may find equally calming and meditative, or somnolent and enervating.
The first piece, “Fire 7 Plasma”, features glass chimes sometimes sounding like porcelain water bowls, then the crackling and snapping of what might be a rain-dampened campfire plus close-mic’d muffled rustling and breath sounds; also aerial whistling – bonfire night fireworks, if I’m not mistaken. It’s both absorbing and static; quirkily fun to place or dissect the constituent sounds, but then inviting lulling acceptance and mental drift.
Even more static, “Earth 2 Solid” focuses on gong-strike timbres and diffused, time-slowed and muffled sampled sounds. So “Water 5 Liquid” comes as a waker-upper: a sampled water course carrying a charge of cold clarity through gongs that are deeper and more reverberant than anything that’s come before, albeit becoming more occluded as a pall of taped rainfall blankets everything.
On “Air 3 Gass”, too, the listener is situated in a soundscape of exposure to, or at best poor shelter from the elements. Radiant chime-blooms are an aurally warming touch even as the ear pricks to the sound of wind – a gale, no less – buffeting over canvas.
And so to the aforementioned “Ether 11 Virtual” – sound as whirring, gently pulsing emanations that slowly concentrate and contract until coming to a sudden stop. After the bounded elemental eternities of the preceding pieces, its irrevocability comes as a reminder of our own stark finitude.
Joe Evans household objects made of glass or metal, environmental field recordings.
Buy Elemental States via spectropol.com.