The Stargazer’s Assistant – Remoteness of Light

Remoteness of LightRemoteness of Light (House of Mythology) sees Guapo percussionist and co-founder David J. Smith’s solo project The Stargazer’s Assistant revived as a working trio.

It follows The Other Side of the Island (Aurora Borealis, 2007), an album of music for a multimedia installation, on which Smith worked with the ubiquitous Daniel O’Sullivan, and a mini-album, Shivers and Voids (Utech Records, 2008), which featured violinist Sara Hubrich.

Remoteness of Light has Smith in collaboration with guitarist David J. Knight, aka Arkkon (Shock Headed Peters, UnicaZürn) and Michael J. York (pipes, FX and field recordings), who has played both in Coil Live, and alongside Smith in the live incarnation of Cyclobe.

This feels very much like a group project, operating in the big, expansive spaces between the hallucinatory ethnological prog of late Coil and Cyclobe and Guapo’s beefier avant-rock workouts.

The CD has three involving, long-form excursions derived from studio recordings made over a four year period. A bonus live cut, “Birth of Decay”, is available only on the double vinyl edition, or as a download for people ordering directly from the House of Mythology web site.

On 19-minute lead cut “Agents of Altitude”, York plays, on pipes, variations of a naive melody against chimes and other hanging percussion, in combination with the sampled atmospheres and shrouded voices, and the initial effect is reminiscent of the music Don Cherry, Nana Vascpncelos and Colin Walcott made as Codona, albeit much less airy. It builds in mass though, through dark synth atmospheres agitated by wailing double reed and djembe drumming, to a peak of sustained intensity and discord plateauing on a micropolyphonic high with surface rivulets of piano. Smith then guides the eventual climb-down with kit percussion, as successive layers of dark synth drone are slowly peeled away.

“World of Amphibia” (18:00) is initially gentler and more acoustic, but builds, through flute-feathered but emphatically tribal-rhythmic kit drumming and carefully layered atmospheres, into a propulsive post-rock workout, again with double reeds, or maybe bagpipes, playing skirling melodies over the backbeats and whorling electronic drones. It’s more orthodox than, say, the more spectral soundscapes of Cyclobe, aiming for a more visceral effect, similar to that of Oren Ambarchi’s live “Knots” shows.

The 19:45 title track is the album’s most original-sounding and unusually structured: an initial atmosphere of treated reed pipes and FX punctured by bass drum pulses, slipping into stranger waters misted by rhaita and metallic percussion scrapes, then clarifying to accentuate a melody picked out on rubab (Afghani lute), ghosted by fluting and bolstered by steady percussive bass notes. Piercing reed pipes then combine with electric guitar and splashy peripheral percussion, and then, in a surprise turn, the guitar briefly locks onto a choppy, Kraut-motoric riff, leading to a rhythmic, kaleidoscopically edgy denouement.

Throughout, all the top-note ethnodelia I’ve highlighted is embedded in absorbing, richly textured electronic soundscapes. The Stargazer’s Assistant may not be as distinctively, creatively visionary as the acts – Coil, Cyclobe – that its members have helped transition to the stage, but its earthier focus has a distinctive, powerfully compulsive effect all its own.

David J. Smith percussion, piano, objects, voice, sampled atmospheres; David J. Knight treated guitar, synth, organ; Michael J. York woodwinds, rubab, piano, objects, voice.

Related Posts
Cyclobe, Myrninerest, and Derek Jarman Films at Meltdown 2012.
Hypnopazūzu – Create Christ, Sailor Boy.
Laniakea – A Pot of Powdered Nettles.
O’Malley, Herzog, Atsuo, Kurihara – Ensemble Pearl.

Buy Remoteness of Light direct from House of Mythology.

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