2012 may be the year of the harmonium, an old instrument now being used in new ways. The instrument had fallen into disuse in recent years, relegated to tag sales and the back rows of orchestras (behind the drums, behind the curtain), so it’s wonderful to hear it being used so creatively. Sigbjørn Apeland laid the groundwork, but Cameron Webb (Seaworthy) builds the next level. On Bellows and Breath (a fine title!), the harmonium is blended with melodica, found sounds and processing to create an elegant coat of sound.
The watery samples of “Bellows Whispered Breath” are worthy of the artist’s nom-de-plume, setting the mood. A neo-classical mood is swiftly established, with drawn-out tones and drones operating as cooperating sails. The inclusion of birdsong at the end intimates that the ship has reached land. This kindness of spirit continues throughout the album. Bellows and Breath is benign, a kind exploration of nearby waters rather than a trip into the abyss. The tone gathers the listener in, inviting him on deck to watch the rolling waves.
On “Breathe Deep”, one imagines the deck and the quiet journey. It’s amazing to hear how easily Webb has made the transition from guitar to a new (old) instrument. The shimmering is still present, albeit with a new brightness, like that of light on underwater gills. Because a harmonium produces elongated notes, no studio wizardry is needed; it already sounds like reverb. Not that Webb has completely deserted the guitar; it makes its first clear appearance on “Rattled Rushes” before ceding the deck to an older captain, returning to the wheel a couple tracks later. But because this album is about bellows and breath, these sounds dominate: intentional air, producing splendid sonorities. By the end of the album, one no longer notices the rarity of the instrumental combination; it’s enough to bask in their warmth. (Richard Allen)