Polyrhythmic music seems to have been my flavour of the month: first came the pleasure of witnessing the absorbing Brooklyn-based avant-garde trio, Dawn of Midi, a few weeks back; then there were some delightfully experimental rhythmic studio jams; and soon after came the latest LP from Public Speaking. Showing a marked switch from the ambient tranquility of 2013’s Line & Weight (much enjoyed by our own David Murrieta), Within Patterns is a concentrated examination of what emerges between layers of varied rhythms. It encourages the listener to not only consider the whole from afar, but also scrutinise beneath its surface.
Instrumental music is often quick to paint pictures. Not saddled (or aided) with words to define, these pictures are usually of broad, sweeping landscapes, or dominated by colour rather than tangible object. In contrast, and notwithstanding almost entirely acoustic instrumentation, Within Patterns evokes images fundamentally mathematical. The music is a metaphor for structure (each track is named simply “Pattern #”) – the sort found when examining the minutiae of nature through a microscope. But perhaps we are viewing instead through a kaleidoscope, as these structures are unstable, in constant flux. Consider the album’s cover. We seem to be observing a fabric formed of two parallel lines but, where the image blurs, the shadows create a criss-cross effect. Has the fabric itself altered, or has the way the light falls on it created the illusion of alteration?
Less intensely cerebral than Dawn of Midi, Within Patterns focuses more on texture and timbre than atmosphere and space, resulting in a vibrant exhibition of mood. The man behind the moniker, Jason Anthony Harris, relies mainly on piano, glockenspiel and marimba, but the regular addition of other percussion and production effects means the range of instruments feels broad. In fact, while minimalist, the drums are often fundamental to the kaleidoscopic nature of some pieces. The plodding stability of the accented hi-hat in “Pattern 1” serves to heighten the rhythmic lunges of the piano chords cavorting around it, while the hi-hat and kick groove in “Pattern 3” is an immovable maypole around which the piano and synth lines wrap their colourful ribbons in varied ways.
The most successful tracks are those that narrow the range of sound, either by using just one instrument or few of similar timbre. The sumptuously restrained “Pattern 5” focuses on wooden percussion, and is the record’s most visually detailed track. Soon after the rich marimba sound departs beyond the minute mark, a solitary note is left hammering in stereo for 15 whole seconds. The tension that builds is masterfully controlled. As the danger seems to pass, the scene is illuminated with sparkles of synth – like stars glimpsed through a canopy. Directly opposed is the bombastic “Pattern 7”, the opening 37 seconds of which present three piano lines chattering over one another: two comparatively straight rhythms in high and low registers, and a middle line whose phrasing falters as though stumbling over its own feet. The piece progresses to perhaps six – certainly five – layers of intoxicating rhythm and register, before it dissolves into a calming coda that fans the freneticism.
There are moments in this record when the layers coalesce so pleasingly yet transiently, that I am reminded of rhythmic coincidences of the everyday: when your footsteps perfectly stride to the tempo through your headphones; when the car indicator rallies with the windscreen wipers; even the simple, hypnotic click-clack of a scurrying dog. Commonplace details easy to overlook, but which offer the genesis of music in its purest form. Perhaps Harris was inspired by these to create music in one of its most advanced forms. (Chris Redfearn)