Gavin Miller ~ Illuminate

“I haven’t bought a physical album in years.”  This comment was made by a pair of friends over this past weekend.  I removed a small plastic light bulb from the drawer of my coffee table and plugged it into my laptop.  The light glowed blue.  “This is an album,” I said.  (It’s actually an EP, but I didn’t want to confuse the point.)  “Woah,” they said.  “That I’d buy.”  And they hadn’t even heard the music!  That’s the power of creative packaging.

Illuminate goes a step further, presenting two ten-minute-plus tracks that are each about light: “Floodlit” and “A Brief Flicker.”  The sound fits the presentation.  These pieces began with samples of an old piano, but each receives adornment, from the sound of sneakers on floors to soft guitars and strings.  One imagines the dark (and the Bandcamp art is indeed very dark) interrupted by the light.  Adding to the enjoyment is the fact that the bulb flickers before settling into illumination, honoring the title of the second track.  One can listen and watch, comforted by the fact that everything matches.

But there’s more: a splintering of sound in two directions.  Just as “Floodlit” seems to have sunken into a series of small drones, retreating from its ambient beginnings, a loud electronic pulse enters the fray.  After seven minutes, this comes as a surprise, reflecting perhaps the intrusion of a floodlight.  I think of the day the bank across the street increased its lights to the level of high beams on an 18-wheeler, and how the suddenly supercharged illumination came as a shock.  (In case you’re wondering, the neighbors banded together and hired a lawyer, and the bank reduced its wattage.)  We like light, but there’s a limit.

“A Brief Flicker” adopts the opposite tactic.  The most active parts ~ synthesized washes with the timbre of flutes ~ arrive early, with moderate percussion.  But this time, late in the piece, these early timbres diminish, replaced by gorgeous guitar, absent since the middle minutes of the opening track.  The guitar brings things full circle three notes at a time, while allowing a sense of peace to wash over the listener, the illumination now less a distraction than a guiding light.  The mind now shifts to metaphor: spiritual illumination, revelation, or perhaps a quiet eureka: the light bulb no longer appearing over one’s head, but in the USB port.  The eye instantly gets the point; the ears are only a few minutes behind.  (Richard Allen)

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