The band’s name – “in the trees” – accurately suggests the soundworld of their previous brace of albums, which were both recorded for ECM. But Phosphorescence moves away from the acoustic, low-key improv aesthetic of their self-titled debut and Canopeé: that music had a lot in common with that of their new label-mates, 1982. Maybe they felt the need to differentiate themselves.
More likely they’re just scratching creative itches. All four members pursue a variety of individual and group projects, guitarist Ivar Grydeland and percussionist Ingar Zach together in Huntsville and earlier, alongside clarinetist Xavier Charles, in the improv collective No Spaghetti Edition. Kyboard player Christian Wallumrød, of course, leads the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble. Just picking up where the quartet left off with Canopeé in 2012 would’ve probably been the more contrived move.
Either way, where 1982 switch things up a little with each new release (and their new one, Chromola, is perhaps their best yet), Dans les Arbres have rung some really profound changes. Charles and Zach still play clarinet and percussion respectively, but Grydeland has put his banjo and Sruti Box aside and now mixes his electric guitar with live sampling, and Wallumrød has traded his harmonium for a synthesizer, and amplified his prepared piano.
The music retains all its former economy of expression⏤if anything, the music has folded in on itself under the carapace of these additional patinas⏤but its feel is very different. With the refraction of instantaneous gestures through processing comes a reduced sense of agency, and the music that results is relatively shapeless, affording the listener no easy purchase.
Of course, that’s all to the good if the textures are rich enough, or the general vibe is all-consuming.
The titles of three out of four pieces⏤”Fluorescent”, “Luminescent” and “Phosphorescent”⏤suggest that the album can be heard as a suite. But there’s also a short introductory piece titled “Sciure” (Sawdust en Français) that has the watery, obscure quality of a processed field recording, a wire-brushed snare set buzzing by a deep electric thrumming accompanied by sharper keening sounds⏤bowed guitar, perhaps, or clarinet⏤and a faint, one note piano signal that gets dropped on a darker, more obfusc reprise.
“Fluorescent” is sporadically animated by a gran casa (low-pitch bass drum) pulse combined with a pall of glass bowl, guitar and sundry bell chimes, percussive snaps and clicks punctuated by the saxophonic pop and kiss of Charles’ reed. As the piece unfolds each isolated gesture gets more aggressive, and Charles, in particular, roots out some fine textures, but it somehow becomes only more hazy and vaporous.
“Luminescent” is a short, bright interval, but it moves at the same slow pace. Its luminosity is conjured from the play of amplified prepared piano and guitar, in combination sounding very like Tomoko Sauvage‘s waterbowls or Harry Partch’s cloud chamber bowls.
“Phosphorescent” lets in more air, and lets some of that luminescence radiate. Zach’s gran casa makes bolder interventions, and everyone’s gestures become more relaxed and assured – more musical, though each sound or note remains sharply detached or separated from the others. Towards the very end, Wallumrød’s preparations sound like thumb piano, matching distant echoes of distorted Congotronic rhythm that briefly filter through the impasto of processing.
They kept it short: just four pieces, two long, two short; just 33 minutes all in, but that’s about right for a ‘raw ambient’ mood piece like this. And it’s cohesive and niche-original: although the mix of folk traditional and electronic instrumentation could be an uncomfortable one, Dans les Arbres make it seem organic. Still, I found it elusive.
Ingar Zach – Gran Cassa, percussion; Xavier Charles – clarinet; Ivar Grydeland – electric guitars, real time sampling; Christian Wallumrød – amplified prepared piano, synthesizer.
Buy Phosphorescence direct from Hubro.