Jessica Moss‘ violin has been gracing post-rock and modern composition for so long that we forget she is still capable of surprise. Phosphenes is a brand new beast, born in isolation, that plunges into the dark in order to sing of the light. This light ~ phosphenes ~ is an illusion created by pressure on the eyes, electrical stimulation, or psychedelic drugs. But if one sees the light, is it really an illusion? One’s response to this question will indicate one’s interpretation of the album: a phantasm of strings, or a path from the underworld.
The entire first side is reserved for “Contemplation,” a three-part piece that is in turn resigned, reflective and resolute. Moss’ layered violin treatments provide the impression of an ensemble: an aural illusion rather than a visual one. But what might the listener contemplate? Perhaps the buoyancy of an invisible construct, such as memory or hope. Whenever one violin seems stranded, another comes along, although the violinist remains the same, and the sound may in fact stem from the same violin. In the same way, one might feel alone, but not lonely.
Side A descends into melody and calm; but Side B dives straight back into the darkness, as if it has been missed. This immersion produces one of Moss’ finest tracks to date: “Let Down.” Described by the label as “octave-dropped arco and pizzicato,” the composition mirrors its title in execution and mood. This past year, everyone in the world learned what it was like to be let down, if they had not yet experienced such sinking sensations. A wailing, wordless voice sings of sorrow and desolation. When higher strains attempt to provide a counterbalance, the lower notes resist.
In the subsequent pieces, voice becomes the mutable factor. If one were asked to close one’s eyes and match track to title, one would be able to identify “Distortion Harbour.” The violin is distorted. The voice is distorted. Everything is cast out of proportion, as it has been in the larger world. In contrast, the closing “Memorizing and Forgetting,” an “ambient duet” with Julias Lewy, folds in piano, guitar and bells, and sounds ~ dare we say it? ~ like an adventurous radio single. It’s as if Moss has asked herself, “how dark have I felt?” followed by “how light might I feel?” In the end, she produces an entirely new breed of phosphene: light not seen, but heard. (Richard Allen)