Drifting in Polar Seas

Toronto’s Polar Seas label returns this month with a pair of evocative albums, one ambient and one modern composition.  Mathieu Lamontagne‘s Obsolescence Programmée is a soft meditation on disposable culture, while Mikael Lind‘s Strings and Clusters detaches and reassembles violin, viola and cello phrases until they reach harmonic convergence.  Together the albums expand the label’s sound far past its origins.

Most of today’s products have a shelf life, some longer than others but many meant to expire specifically so they might be replaced; for example, generations of iPhone.  Having recently suffered a hard drive crash, I know the feeling of losing something immaterial due to the failure of something physical.  The term used to describe such products is “planned obsolescence,” created by “our need to consume.”  Listening to Obsolescence Programmée, one hears ghosts in the machine ~ mysterious clinks and clanks that languish in the sonic field like little glitches or viruses.  The effect is as unsettling as hearing a strange noise in a laptop or even a larger appliance such as a refrigerator.  Circuits are firing, but are they doing what we expect?  An ambient mist spreads slowly over the recording, lugubrious and perfumed, reflecting a state of physical satiation combined with a nagging spiritual dissatisfaction.  At the risk of making Yeats sound maudlin, things fall apart.  The accumulated weight of these failures is enough to provoke malaise, captured by Lamontagne in a format that is itself vulnerable to corruption, an irony that is certainly not lost on the artist.

Strings and Clusters is a warmer recording, unexpected due to its cover photo, which portrays ships trapped in ice.  While Mikael Lind finds spots in which to lodge his string phrases, the effect is more like the arrangement of sushi ingredients, their proximity producing unexpected flavors.  The artist calls these phrases “building blocks,” purposely created with the intention of stacking.  The titles all refer to this process: “Shapeshifting Clouds,” “How Things Disperse and Combine,” “Beauty Through Repetition.”  Sudden juxtapositions lift the spirit to the skies, an emotional payoff reminiscent of Alex Somers, who ~ guess what! ~ helped to master the album.  The Icelandic spirit of cooperation is intact here, but so is the evidence that Lind continues to develop his sound.  Two Lind EPs released earlier this year – Three Piano Pieces and Granular Computing – hearkened back to prior timbres, but Strings and Clusters seems a natural progression from 2016’s Intentions and Variations.  We can visualize the phrases on a cutting board, being spliced and rearranged, the artist pausing to reconsider each placement.  The end result: an album that sounds like the work of a small ensemble with conductor, the best and most beautiful work of Lind’s career to date.  (Richard Allen)

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