Sydney’s Longform Editions is a new offshoot of the Preservation label, its intention “to foster and celebrate immersive listening experiences for the musically adventurous.” In short, these are EP and album-length tracks, the current set ranging from 17 to 35 minutes. Founders Andrew Khedoori and Mark Gowing have continued the unified cover aesthetic from the parent label, making each edition look wonderful together. The premiere edition debuted in June, containing offerings from Lee Noble, Richard Youngs, Liz Durette and Ungrayedd Smurphy. The August edition includes N. Chambers, Caterina Barbieri, Paul Mac/Andy Rantzen and Saariselka.
Longform Editions takes up where Nomad Exquisite leaves off, the latter concentrating on music 7 to 13 minutes in length. Each highlights duration as a crucial aspect of composition. While this variable is seldom discussed, it’s a huge part of music history, from the restrictions imposed by various formats (record, tape, CD) to the single edit and extended version. If we like it, a long track can still seem too short; if we don’t, a short track can seem too long. In the digital era, tracks can be as long as they want to be, although at a certain point some streaming services still cut them in half. But the experience of listening to a track changes depending on its length, especially when it comes to instrumental music, which offers the possibility that the listener, devoid of lyric markers, may lose track of time.
Take for example the gorgeous Itinerant Pattern from N. Chambers. As Panabrite, Chambers has created long compositions before (most notably the 47-minute Disintegrating Landscape), but the majority of his work has been in the single-length format. Longform Editions allows him space to spread his wings, and spread them he does. While listening to this piece, one begins to sink slowly into the ever-evolving patterns of its title, following one synthesized thread or another and falling down a rabbit hole of sound. Some synths sound like popcorn, others like rain. Half an hour is a perfect length; an edit would be a travesty. The composition has form and trajectory, building to an electronic firework show. Hypnotic, precise and bright, it’s a perfect selling point for the series.
Caterina Barbieri’s sogno che suona seems at first a tonal opposite. It’s even different from Barbieri’s other current release, Born Again in the Voltage. Her piece for Longform Editions is slow and reserved, inviting listeners to hear and perhaps think about every note as it chimes. The effect is meditative, as its repetitions calm the soul and open doors to a different level of consciousness. Now imagine it as a single, three minutes in length. Without the extended length, the track would have little opportunity to permeate the ears. Instead, it might be received as a series of tones, pretty yet devoid of impact.
Some may recognize Andy Rantzen and Paul Mac as “alternative rave” duo Itch-E and Scratch-E. On The Currawong Shall Return, they adopt a surprisingly glacial pace. Were the piece shorter, it would qualify for Flaming Pines’ Birds of a Feather series, but 36 minutes is too long for a CD3″. However, its length is suited to an exploration of nuance, ambient threads alternating with what seem like cries of the native bird. This sounds like the score to a birdwatching expedition ~ a lot of waiting, punctuated by sudden excitement during which one must still be quiet. At 30:57, the heart begins to beat faster; in this case, it was worth the wait. The slow movement (affecting everything from cooking to travel) has found its aural accompaniment.
Saariselka (Marielle V Jakobsons and Chuck Johnson)’s Ceres is the sonic outlier of the set, as electric piano, pedal steel and organ suggest musicians on the porch in the Old West. The timbres match the composition’s theme. Our moments are fleeting; can we make them last? An undercurrent of sorrow reminds us that everything is ephemeral. The notes fade as they echo, and the song winds inexorably toward its end. We can play it again, but it won’t be the same. This sort of cumulative sadness could never be built in a shorter track. There’s enough time for hiraeth, but not enough time for ennui. Somehow the duo knows just when to end, walking backwards from the peak of understanding.
Longform Editions swims against the current of impatience. Their music invites listeners to slow down, appreciate nuance, and extract themselves from the restrictions of time. The next batch will appear in two months. We’re eager to hear them, but we’re also content to wait. (Richard Allen)