The title Metal Aether directly evokes a juxtaposition of matter and spirit, of a hard surface made of nothing, of the saxophone’s brutal (as in raw) means of expressing sweetness via relatively harsh sounds. The album was recorded both at a former military base in France and at ISSUE Project Room in New York, fulfilling the associations of the ‘avant-garde’ term as the siren-call of battles once heard across the twentieth century as well as the sites at which the call was made, mainly the artist studio. While the battles were, for the most part, lost, there is a lingering romance of the vanguard that is as elusive as it is powerfully present, in the sense that it flickers with every passing second towards any and all extremes. Like the hurtful sensation of a blinding light in the middle of the night that slowly becomes normal, terrible shocks can emanate from the most weightless of events, the hardness of creativity entangled with the softness of militancy. The tangible, unambiguous tones of the saxophone grow and fall amidst the haze of field recordings and their distant droning, a synthesis that makes the music simultaneously present and forever in escape.
“Patterns for Alto”, the first track, sounds like a frenetic chase in which the instrument races along quick, almost desperate figures, like thoughts and voices drawing a labyrinth of textures and tones. It twists and turns as if it was almost out of control, always just beyond the ear’s reach, its structure that of a dream you can’t wake up from. There’s something very tangible about those moments in which your body feels so trapped it bursts with sweat, those moments in which you start to identify the saxophone’s path only to be thrown off by its echoing repetitions, having to begin again every second. By the time “Accumulations” begins, everything about Metal Aether is an alchemical breaking point between different states, but instead of going all-out and drowning the dream, it recedes, pulling back to slowly build back up again. Every layer of “Accumulations” is expansive and multiple, a mass of saxophone resonance that even at its quickest, sharpest blasts just seems to linger. ‘Build up’ and ‘layers’ makes it sound like a rational, ordered endeavor, but it actually feels like the growth of clouds, a sort of condensation of sounds that have no discernible form. Eventually the clouds recede, and something clearer arises, but it is a clearness that invites sheer electronic noise, the grinding vertigo of the infinite.
The second half of the album retains all the qualities from the first, but develops them further. “Sustain and Dissolve” also accumulates tones, but it feels much more grounded than the track that precedes it, perhaps because it makes certain ‘patterns’ interact instead of overlap, flowing from one into the other not so much as clash but as sequence, their ‘hardness’ wearing off against each other. The last five minutes of this piece echo the last ones of “Accumulations”, except the noise is here no sharp look into the abyss – it is the very texture of that cloud of sounds, like a closeup of the racing patterns of the beginning, the clicks and hisses of tapes an elemental component of the silence that ensues. The last track, “At Dawn”, embraces a much more ambient approach, like the complete opposite of “Patterns for Alto” and its singular-yet-multiple paths, utilizing the repeating background guides of the last section of “Sustain and Dissolve” to avoid getting the listener lost. The noise here returns, but only in bursts, almost rhythmically, like breathing, the cloud slowly coming undone to make way for the peacefulness of clear skies. Hard and soft sublimate, the vanguard pushes the limits of the known, and it all starts again. (David Murrieta)