M. Beckmann (The Volume Settings Folder) has been quietly amassing a personal body of work over the past few years. His tender blend of field recordings, guitar, electronics and other organic instruments has led to some creative and hard-to-define collections, each of which have been available in generous limited edition packaging, stuffed with ephemera. With Folder #5, he seeks to find closure in this phase of his discography; with Laguna, he begins a new chapter.
It’s easy to like an album that starts with the sounds of water, birds and bees, and Folder #5 is nothing if not endearing. A warm recording, the set stretches gently into different arenas, at one point producing a piano hymn (the gorgeous “St. Martin’s Cloak”), in another experimenting with processed banjo and ukulele. The songs segue like a suite, as rain falls on metal pots and notes flow over the lips of troughs to produce puddled chords. The only “off” notes arrive on “White Oak’s Patriarchy II,” as guitar notes warble about, inebriated. Through it all the moisture keeps falling, culminating in a deluge on the official closing track, “Bellows”. Extra credit to the artist for really pouring it on!
The electronics are back in full force on Laguna, an intimate work inspired by the artist’s German homeland, and dedicated to his mother. This is the other side of The Volume Settings Folder and serves as a fine counterpart to its predecessor. A persistent electric crackle provides the backdrop in the early going, as if the rain has been replaced by heavenly fire. This seeming discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the album contains a flow similar to that of a river or stream; the current bears not only the sounds, but the memories, and even perhaps the body of the artist if he travels by boat. When the water makes its first major appearance, nearly a quarter-hour has passed, enough time for the impression of a stream to have developed. “Terra Emersa” wraps water in scraped strings, daring it to escape. The ensuing piece, “Fragments of Water”, acts as the fraternal twin of “St. Martin’s Cloak”; and the stream of “Water in Fragments” holds a liquid mirror to “Bellows”. As the birds of “Currents” echo those of Volume #05‘s opener, one realizes that these are two parts of a whole: yin and yang, organic and electronic, before and after. Beckmann has crossed a bridge both physically and metaphorically, emerging as a modified version of his former self. Laguna‘s major change is that it is shaped as a bell curve, rather than as an arrow. Volume #05 builds to catharsis, but as the final notes of Laguna fade, one thinks, here is the closure the artist has sought for so long. Now, finally, rest. (Richard Allen)