Last night’s blizzard lent multiple shades of white to the region: the muted white of the sky before snowfall, the grey of falling flakes, the filtered blue of fading light at sunset, the sharp, bright white of morning beneath a cloudless sky. The white retreats in shadows and advances in sun; it sparkles in crystals and fades in footprints. The whole world seems drenched in white silence. A state of emergency has been declared, and the only movement outside is the wind across the drifts. An occasional burst of white noise breaks the silence; snowblowers and plows echo in the distance.
Shades of white are tricks of light resulting from refraction. Refraction is filter, nuance, impression. “Does that look white to you?” one might ask. “Yes, but what kind of white? Polar bear, icicle, frosting, milk?” Bartosz Dziadosz’s 15 Shades of White asks the same question in sonic fashion. Dronarivm describes the project as tracks that are “different in atmosphere and sound (but) united by a common winter mood”. The key word is “a”, as these 15 tracks (plus two bonus downloads) occupy the realm of introspective winter. A darker element occasionally slips in, a reminder of winter’s dangers: depression, isolation, gloom. But for the most part, the mood is one of peaceful reflection.
The piano is often associated with winter, thanks perhaps to the ivory keys or the sharpness of the notes. Anne Chris Bakker imparts a sparse lesson on “Paths (for Robert)” by allowing the notes to drift; Sophie Hutchings & Peter Hollo offer the mesmerizing “Closing In”, the album’s longest track and its most evocative. Hollo’s treated cello provides a deepness of tone that implies the secrets of winter: the animals in their burrows, the love behind locked doors. These same instruments are also prominent in Aaron Martin & Christoph Berg’s “Until Tomorrow Then”. After their last album on the label proved so memorable, it’s great to see their collaboration continue. A touch of percussion late in the piece sounds like hoof falls.
Ice, sleet and gravel are scattered about the set, serving as reminders that winter is not all benign. Talvihorros’ “Etude V” contains segments of static crumble, while Pleq’s remix of Jacaszek’s “III” includes rain, bells and a distant owl. Sleet appears on Frozen Vault’s “Hard Frost Fields”, the only track with a seasonal title reference. Orla Wren’s fabulous “Fibres and Threads” sounds just like its name, with stray bits of sonic yarn woven throughout the piece. Late in the album, melancholy sets in, as Marcus Fjellström injects “Something Comes from Nothing” with military drums and groans. The most compelling selection is Strië’s “Lascaux”, which refers to an old French cave packed with paleolithic drawings. Creaks, drones and distant howls make the song sound like a hibernation, an escape from the world. In contrast, plaintive piano notes imply that the time away is not a complete withdrawal, but a preparation for a life yet unseen.
Overall, this is one of the best original compilations we’ve heard in quite some time: as Dronarivm has advertised, diverse yet unified, with a gentle track-to-track flow that promotes repeated plays. 15 Shades of White helps the experience of being snowed in to seem comforting rather than cut off. This young Moscow label continues to go from strength to strength, and this set helps us to know how they feel in the midst of the vast Russian winter, as Olympians compete and vodka flows. (Richard Allen)