Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Paul Fretwell & Ambrose Field - Northern Loop

Paul Fretwell/Ambrose Field - Northern Loop
Sargasso. SCD 28072

‘Loop based structures are commonplace in music created with technology. Our collaborative aim was to challenge the loop by using it as the minimum structural unit, and design new interactions between the materials that result from constant repetition. Instead of relying on techniques derived from 1960s minimal musics, such as phasing and displaced overlapping, we set out to investigate alternative means for achieving textural diversity and development. In each movement of Northern Loop, the loop is treated as a time block, where the boundaries of the block provoke additional spectral processing of the contents. Large parameter changes are avoided and small scale changes are deployed across long time scales. This processing was carried out entirely aurally, and algorithmic or automated procedures for long term development are not employed here. In selecting and developing sounds for this piece, we placed a focus on intricate internal workings and in finding textures that would provide a sense of detail remaining to be uncovered on subsequent listenings’.

I first listened to this release, as I do a lot of music that comes this way, from another room. I play review material in no given order putting on what suits my mood, soaking up as much as I can whilst wandering from room to room in a distracted manner. The attention bit comes later. These peripheral listens lay the ground work if you like. They become the footers that are the foundations for later, much closer listens. It was during one of these preliminary listens that something quite unusual happened. Whilst listening from another room I felt the air pressure of the room I was in actually change. A distinct shift in the air pressure around me caused by one of the tracks emerging from Northern Loops. I made a mental note and went about my business.

Listening back later, on headphones, I sat through the entire dreamy 80 minutes worth waiting for it to happen again, but it didn’t. The headphones couldn’t reproduce it. Now I’m not saying I have a high end hi-fi [stereo, call it what you will] but I did pay a pricey sum for it when I bought it all those many years ago. So I sat and listened from the comfort of the Poang, sans headphones, letting those looping drones roll over me and there it was, on track four, at about eleven minutes in, a sound so low in frequency that the cones on my woofers began reflexing so alarmingly that I feared they’d pop out leaving me with an awkward conversation with the insurance people as to how it was that my thirty year old Pioneer speakers were now useless thanks to Fretwell and Field.

As a rule I find 80 minute CD’s a bit of a drag. Its the double LP of the CD world and for the most part a long slog. Not so here. What these two composers have achieved grips and engages to such an extent that total immersion pushes everything but the music from your mind. Its the perfect transcendental experience in the comfort of your own home. Exposure to this kind of work in a concert hall through a high end PA system must boarder on the staggering.

Such transcendence is writ throughout but its on the final 20 minute track ‘Glass Machine’ that the thing finally splits the top of your head open. Its the way in which each of these myriad loops reveal whats within them and under them and all around them that appeals. Numerous listens reveal further detail. Its 80 minutes become a deeper and deeper resource from which its possible to further enrich your drone addled brain.

Opener ‘Dark Water’, if appearing on some austere Swedish label with a picture of a darkened forest for company, could pass as eerie industrial ambience. There’s the clunk of deep sea chains, a constant churn of deep low-end rumble, a bowl ring that morphs into a squeaky bike chain, night time jungle insects, barely audible rapid CD skips tamed into a loop of satisfying proportions.

‘Renaissance Pulse’ vies with Charlamagne Palastine’s wine glass drones with clear as a bell tone cycles and yes, there they are again, but for the briefest moment, those wonderful woofer flutters returning to test my speakers and change the very air around me.

Lasting impressions are the details, the sonics and the sheer depth of compositional technique required to create something that only truly comes to life when given your very fullest attention. And lets not forget the mastering [also by Field] without which those magical moments would be lost. Not to be listened to on MP3 players, tin cans or dubbed to death Boots C90’s.

Ambrose Field I have reviewed before. He’s head of music at York University bits of which are in Heslington which is the posh bit of Yorkshire.  Paul Fretwell is also head of music, this time at Kent University which is in the posh bit of England. They’re both doctors [of music I presume] and the recipients of many international music awards.

Apologies for borrowing from the sleeve notes, but I think that the above description of what these two composers set out to achieve could be explained far more eloquently by them rather than me.



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