Few records are as experiential as this, the debut of The Cray Twins. The duo explore the symbiosis of electro/acoustic audio and human systems, which are equally subject to processes of transference, remapping, breakdown; the conversion of electrical into acoustic energy, and vice-versa. And this mapping of lived experience onto musical processes is perhaps what makes The Pier (Fang Bomb) so affecting. Like its structural namesake, the album is pitched as a salient into ungraspable boundlessness. As stark as that sounds, as with much of the bleakness in our landscapes, the music carries a charge of real emotional intensity and its own kind of desolate beauty.
The Twins are Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy. I don’t know much about Kennedy, other than he’s a musician and engineer. Baran is Glasgow-based, an electro-acoustic sound artist in his late 30s, with two solo albums on Fang Bomb: Panoptic (2009) and The Other (2015), which was partly recorded at STEIM in Amsterdam. These albums featured contributions from Ekkehard Ehlers, Keith Rowe, Andrea Belfi, Werner Dafeldecker, Axel Dörner, Lucio Capece, and Sebastian Lexer: an impressive roll-call of non-idiomatic sound artists, which perhaps raises expectations too high. Not so this time out.
Five of the ten pieces on The Pier feature similarly heavyweight names: Chicagoan saxophonist Ken Vandermark; Dutch ‘sound designer’ Jos Smolders; Argentinian reeds player Lucio Capece; and Swedish sound artist BJ Nilsen, among others. The Cray Twins exact something distinctive from each of them, then subsume those things into their own sound, which is established on the remaining five pieces. The Twins’ make electroacoustic music too richly textured to be classified as ‘dark ambient’, but it is, distinctively, darkly ambient nonetheless.
Lead track “Torshaven” works the sounds of Tuomas Ollikainen’s softly blown processed clarinet and radiant electronic drones into richly orchestral density amid a rough, gravelly patter of sonic detritus and surges on intermittent foghorn blares that bloom into foreboding miasmata.
“Duao 1” also incorporates human breath sounds – harsh feedback tones against a shimmering corona of sound, partially generated by Lucio Capece’s prepared saxophone, objects & tone generators. Everything’s sheathed in luminosity in this soaring, majestic piece, which suggests a numinous or transcendental intensity, a feeling amplified, on the relatively subdued “Fianuis”, by the sound-shrouding of choral voices in amorphous electronics and vibrant church organ drones.
The title piece is one of only three that edge toward the ten minute mark. It’s less dramatic, incorporating elements of post glitch minimalist electronica, cf. Ryoji Ikeda or Alva Noto at their most discreet. “Duao 2” follows on, a muzzy, shimmering soundscape enfolding discreet spoken word and FM radio samples.
The mood is fraught with suppressed tensions on “Harbour”, one of the album’s most obscure and volatile-sounding pieces, which is also haunted by wordless vocalisations. It’s the first to introduce field recordings, which explicitly evoke a sense of place – a seascape or foreshore.
Hymnal voices on “Song From A Black House” sing a quasi-religious incantation evoking the harsh, elemental existence of a life of subsistence fishery. Processed feedback saxophone courtesy Ken Vandermark, with all its attendant key clacks and phooms, blends with processed field recordings to complete the capsule abstraction of experience in the grip of the elements. It’s the album’s moment of peak drama. The more intricate “Seafar” introduces brittle, zither-like string sounds, amplifying the acoustic quotient.
A ten minute BJ Nilsen remix of the “Duao” pieces, “Duao 3” is a recapitulation, vinyl-glitchy to start with, but soon reprising the otherworldly characteristics of “Duao 1” while teasing out previously submerged harmonics. Which brings us to “A Boy”, where high harmonics blend with the sounds of surf and breakers dragging pebbles back into an ocean, and a whispered voice invokes the memories of a boy on a beach, where: “The great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me…”.
The Pier contains truly immersive music, of a textural richness that stimulates consciousness, evoking feelings that seem compellingly real. Sometimes (rarely) you come to an album with no foreknowledge or preconceptions, and it blows you away. This one did it for me.
Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy, with Lucio Capece prepared saxophone, objects & tone generators on “Duao 1”; Gerry Kelly phonography on “Song from a Black House”; Nicky Miller voice on “Duao 2”; BJ Nilsen remix of “Duao 3”; Tuomas Ollikainen processed clarinet on “Torshaven”; Jos Smolders phonography on “Harbour”; Ken Vandermark ‘mutant saxophone’ on “Song from a Bleak House.
Oren Ambarchi and Johan Berthling – Tongue Tied.
RARA AVIS – Mutations / Multicellulars Mutations + DKV Trio – Past Present.
Oren Ambarchi and Charlemagne Palestine + Oren Ambarchi, Daniel Menche and BJ Nilsen at Touch.30 – Cafe Oto, 2 and 3 April 2012.
Buy The Pier direct from Fang Bomb.