We do like the squiggle (I take full responsibility), but we never thought we’d see it in an artist’s name. The Cartography of Shifting Planes is the second album from Cycle~ 440, the Perth duo of Sam Gillies (whose Music for Computers was reviewed here earlier this year) and Kevin Penkin, following The Geography of Collapsing Structures. Yet this is an altogether more delicate affair than the duo’s debut, and certainly more so than Gillies’ solo release. Cartography succeeds where Geography did not by reeling in its wildness, doling it out in portions instead of stumbling and spilling it all over. On Geography, we learned that the duo is capable of violent whimsy; on Cartography, we learn that it is also capable of refinement.
The piano and electronics pairing of the opening piece is an appetizer of sorts: here’s our home base, get to know it before we leave. The rest of the album is defined by the distance traveled. Each force grows more active as the album progresses, spurning the ambient for the avant garde. The unveiling is carefully calibrated for maximum effect, from twinkling to drone to military percussion to vocal experimentation. The listener is led into the album’s core like a tourist to a volcano, step by step, so cautiously that the danger seems surreal. The planes are shifting indeed; the harsh static bursts are saved for the album’s direct center, where they can best be appreciated as the groundwork has already been laid. When power tools enter the mix, it seems like a natural progression. Then in kind contrast, the abrasive sounds recede, content to bubble in the background while the piano plays a lost lament. Then the instruments return to home base, altered by their experience, but intact. The final track is split into two pieces, intimating that the listener is also invited to walk in one direction or another, toward the familiar or the unknown.
Arc is not a subject we often address, but it’s the heart of Cartography, an album that deserves, even demands to be heard as a single piece. Cycle~ 440 has done our beloved squiggle proud. (Richard Allen)