This is a strikingly beautiful and original album, made by a trio of unorthodox British musicians and an extraordinary Norwegian vocalist. A deeply, satisfyingly elliptical take on fourth-world music, it could be taken as a detailed study of just one of the topographies suggested by John Hassell’s pioneering early ’80s albums Possible Musics (a collaboration with Brian Eno) and Dream Theory in Malaya.
Twinkle³’s Clive Bell is a multi-instrumentalist with a specialist interest in the shakuhachi and other East Asian wind instruments. You might have heard him playing on the Harry Potter or Hobbit movie soundtracks, or perhaps via a decade-long association with Jah Wobble, notably as a member of the bassist’s Deep Space groups. Bell also plays plays free improvisation, as in duets with multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Hallett (The Geographers), and Twinkle³’s David Ross, once the drummer for Kenny Process Team, now practitioner of the self-styled ‘Drosscillator’. Ross, in turn, plays in Grutronic alongside Twinkle³’s Richard Scott, a specialist in motion-controlled electronics and modular synths.
The trio debuted on record with 2009’s vinyl-only Let’s Make A Solar System (ini.itu). For this follow-up, Debris In Lower Earth Orbit – a multi-format release on a new Manchester label, Cuspeditions – they teamed up with Sidsel Endresen, a Norwegian vocalist who has previously collaborated on recordings with Bugge Wesseltoft, Humcrush and Stian Westerhus.
Endresen’s participation was apparently suggested by David Sylvian, who, in liner notes, recalls playing the completed album on a road trip that took him across a North American desert, where Endressen’s singing evoked, he says: “an ancient lament for lost souls,” while by the music: “the otherworldliness of the landscape was returned to me.” And it’s easy to hear why.
Endressen can evoke a connection with the ancient, earthy or numinous because she sings in wordless vocalisations that are replete with sighs and susurrations, breathiness and vivacity, expressing nuances of emotion through precise articulation; she’s melancholic, ludic and tricksy by turns.
On the opening “Drag The Solar Sail” Endressen sings a strange berceuse to a backing woven from electronic fluorescences and static, stressed samples of strummed guitar, and variously-pitched fluting reeds; the effect is both emotive and ineffable.
“Debris In L.E.O.” plays Bell’s shakuhachi against oscillatory electric currents, with gong-chime electronica filling in for the absent Endressen, who returns as a shamanic storyteller, chanting lulling non-words as Bell’s shakuhachi snakes like animate mist through the aqueous, ghostly soundshroud of “Gloominescence”.
Ross and Scott knead their electronics into a protean mulch that’s often gut-bubbly and glutinous but sometimes gaseous and diffuse. It’s glitchy on “Paintflakes Are Dancing”; an unstable alien flux, pulsing against a vocal that’s seemingly solipsistic and adrift on “Graveyard Orbit”. But Bell’s shakuhachi is a pleasingly breathy and melodious constant, ranging in tone and texture from featheriness to raita-like acidity.
Endressen doesn’t sing on everything, but she’s multi-tracked on the first half of “The Kessler Cascade”, introducing a second act of ritualistic Fenneszian détournement. Also on “Cosmos and Iridium Embrace”, which at 08:46 is twice as long as anything else here. It comes close to the soundworld of David Toop’s Pink Noire, an album made for the Virgin Ambient series back in 1996. But Debris In Lower Earth Orbit is a real original, a group effort. It’s more focused than Pink Noire, and more soulful too, imbued as it is with an almost palpable, quasi-biological warmth and tactility.
Sidsel Endressen voice; Clive Bell shakuhachi and other woodwind; Richard Scott electronics; David Ross Drosscillator, kantelem mbira.
Buy Debris In Lower Earth Orbit from Cuspeditions’ Bandcamp.