Last year we reviewed Matthew Collings‘ Splintered Instruments, which is being re-released on Denovali along with the current album. The instrumentation is even stronger this time around, highlighted by a brass ensemble and string quartet, and the vocals have been dropped. While the former album skewed modern pop in a welcome way, the latter album offers a refreshing take on modern composition.
Chronologically, Silence Is A Rhythm Too also follows Fireworks and the Dead City Radio, recorded as Sketches for Albinos, and is presented in the spirit of Graveyard Tapes, Collings’ project with Euan McMeeken (glacis). But the greatest influence here is that of Ben Frost. In fact, Silence Is a Rhythm Too sounds more like a follow-up to By the Throat than Frost’s own Aurora, released earlier this year. One can even hear Frost in particular notes, such as the boom at the beginning of “Everything you love will end up on the breeze”. The similarity can be attributed to Collings’ long-term friendship with Frost, which developed during the years that the Scottish composer spent in Iceland. Of course Frost isn’t Icelandic either; the Australian simply fell under the nation’s spell.
The album title may have been inspired by a Stilts song, but as the liner notes indicate, the greater inspiration is Mark Rothko’s statement that “the only things worth making art about are romance, tragedy and death”. Collings extends this statement to studies of texture, especially the tension between loud and soft. While he avoids the extremes of silence and abrasion, certain moments draw near to the edges. The more important factor is a sense of give-and-take; one force retreats while the other withdraws, and vice versa. One encounters this dance in lead single “Toms”, which toys with volume and density. The toms of the title surge and ebb while other forces bubble, waiting their turn to attack. But just as the song seems ready to overheat, a quiet brass segment enters like a cool mist on a near-riot. On this album, Collings is less interested in the imitation of tropes than in their inversion.
By dropping adherence to the ternary form, Collings allows himself the freedom to experiment. The sound becomes more important than the structure. Not that the album lacks structure; it simply makes its own rules. Patterns enter when they are ready and repeat as long as necessary, with no particular need to be heard again; that’s what the rewind button is for. The polar opposite of such an album is the Hollywood score, in which a motif is repeated ad infinitum in various permutations, thrilling at first, yet eventually grating as one recognizes the thin nature of the overall composition. Whenever Collings has a new idea, he progresses toward it, then pushes through it on his way to the next one.
We’ve been tracking Collings for years, and he’s made steady progress. We expect that he’ll continue to experiment and improve; all that’s left is the development of a signature sound. (Richard Allen)