Microtub’s proposition is unique: to record, inside an empty water tower, two musical pieces in just intonation performed by a tuba trio – hence the microtonal reference of the group’s name. There’s a few timely interventions by analog synthesizers (one modular, one Prophet 5), used mostly as the stepping stone into new worlds of sound, constantly in dialogue with the tubas as both response and rearrangers. To the tubas’ ebb and flow, a sea of sound in which changes are almost imperceptible, the synths mark precise, almost monumental changes that ripple throughout the bright, meditative harmonies that fill the entirety of the listener’s mind.
The physical and metaphorical juxtapositions of water and harmony, of listening and ‘empty’ space, or the echoes of thought and the waves of sounds bouncing across the enclosure, serve as the path through which the music allows us to enter an Oliverosian ‘deep listening’ state. Just like recording itself takes into account the place, the equipment, the tuning system, and the subtleties of the interactions between instruments and sound sources, the music draws a complex network of connections between all of its elements, presenting the listener with an immersive soundscape so detailed and dense it is possible to feel transplanted to another place altogether. The question of how many sounds can we listen to at once is one of mental expansion, more than a physical question, and the sheer simultaneity of massiveness and lightness in this music provokes a break in usual listening practices in search of patterns and sequences with which to reduce the sounds to a mental map that makes sense out of complexity. As the chords of the tubas make the very vibrations of air into a substance whose volume can be felt, that reduction becomes impossible, the patterns lost amidst the fluid sway of harmonies that already – thanks to the tuning – present a certain difficulty for ears accustomed to 12-tone equal temperament. Every sound becomes significant, and every sound becomes a signal for more sounds, intricately weaving an infinite, liquid flow.
The two pieces complement each other with that complexity as basis, and although “Chronic Shift” is shorter, it configures a terrain that is relatively more familiar for that ear used to a very specific tuning system, breaking it, so to speak, into the possibilities of the unfamiliar. Whereas traditionally musical changes are structurally announced, here they emerge, every change the trembling surface of a sea whose apparent stability masks the truth of its continual difference. It prepares listeners for the much more drone-like “System Reboot”, a longer piece in which the low-pitched tones of the tubas make the flows feel tectonic, as if the myriad sounds were cracking open all the limits imposed by patterns and structures. The synths here play a less clearly dialectical role, often integrating with the other instruments as part of harmonic masses in which tones have no clear beginning nor end. The meditative state it produces is distinct, in the sense that, unlike drone, it is operating well within the confines of musicality, as contrast, and not as continuity, between tone and world. Half-way through the track, the synths – almost quietly- play extremely short melodies in a style commonly used by ambient musicians: open, slow, always drifting away. It provides a pattern to hold on to, but, like the perfect timing between waves that crash into the beach, it is one that does not lead, and is only a point of focus from which further diffusion can take place.
Chronic Shift is one of the most unique albums I’ve heard this year, its complexity an interesting parting point to delve into other kinds of musicality, unexplored terrains that remain asleep at the bottom of the ocean that is our unconscious. (David Murrieta Flores)
Available here on August 30.