Nothing is what it seems in this fascinating sound document, whose title alone requires a deep breath. Prada & Oregon is not a duo but a solo artist (Susan Balmar), who also records under her own name. And the two seventeen-minute pieces on this cassette may seem like longform compositions, but are actually collages of tape loops. The length is a major departure for Balmar, whose last couple releases, CCG and ///, featured three-character titles and one-two minute songs. Her sound remains somewhat the same, as do her unwieldy titles (on CCG, one track title was a comma). But time extension does wonders for her appeal. If all of the former songs were stitched together, they might sound something like this. These selections draw the listener in, operating as rabbit holes instead of golf holes.
The label calls the recording “a requiem to death itself”. This seems an unusual definition given the fact that the music is lively, and despite its sharp edges, bright. This requiem seems more concerned with transcendence, resurrection, or the escape from mortal plane. The cover art, which appears to be a charcoal sketch of a Greek bust, implies timelessness secured by art. The mysterious nature of the music lends itself to this hypothesis. His Past of Heaven is the sound of breaking through, as tone after tone, loop after loop, struggles to reach the foreground like souls vying for the eternal light. The finest aspect of the tape is that it remains in constant motion, a vortex of sonic activity that develops a trajectory despite its lack of major themes. A clock, not quite ticking in time, appears in the opening and closing minutes of Side B to produce an unusual catharsis: at the end of time, there is no time.
But perhaps titles and label tags are not so crucial. Side A is called “Everything Turning Into a 5l. Bottle of PVA”, which we will guess is polyvinyl acetate, or carpenter’s glue. A molasses of pops, static surges and rotating chords, the piece does indeed sound like its title. But then how to explain “Her Margin of the Great Mao Eastern Barrier”, which is more percussive and alert? Perhaps Balmar is simply having fun. If so, her requiem is more that of the jester than the priest ~ the loose laughter produced by the absurdity of being alive. The workshop noises of the opening minutes seem to bear this out. The artist didn’t need to wear a welder’s helmet to connect these loops. But like a master craftswoman, she’s created her own durable offering, and has managed to disguise every seam. (Richard Allen)