Various Artists ~ Epiphanies

A compilation album is a tricky beast.  Swiss record label Hallow Ground’s Epiphanies appropriately deploys the form to illustrate the hopelessly subjective nature of an epiphanic experience.  The featured artists, many of whom have worked with Hallow Ground before, were each invited to contribute work created using a ‘non-rational compositional process’ which would approach the phenomenon of an epiphany through sound.  

The highly varied sonic palettes of these artists mirror the manner in which an epiphany’s eruption is so particular to time, place, subject and the elusive atmosphere of thought, feeling, and sensation.  An epiphany is as impossible to predict as it is viscerally felt.  From whence does it come?  And can one prepare the grounds for its emergence? One hypothesis forwarded by the drone-adjacent genres of experimental music is that it might emerge from the space between; between abstract and natural sound, between melody and its lack, between the meeting of different sonic tones and textures.  

A well-delineated set of guidelines for deep or intentional listening is often applied to discussions of music such as this.  Yet the genre of the compilation eliminates any consistency one might hope to bring to this listening experience, a move that seems appropriate given the unpredictability of the theme.  The set includes narratively oriented compositions such as Maria W Horn’s “Oinones Death Part I,” with its slow, mournful contrabass recorder melody accompanied by shimmering glass.  Other work is more grounded in the particular or everyday.  Laurin Huber’s “Puolipilvista (Partly Cloudy),” captures the rustling of banal gestures and movements such as the running of water or shifting of objects, underlaid with a steady low drone.  Magda Drozd’s “Suspended Stream” stages a duet between various electro-acoustic instruments which join together in a gauzy, haunting melody, introduced and occasionally interrupted by the crinkling, scraping, and gentle tape hiss of found sound.  The piercing drone that opens Lawrence English’s “Outside the City of God” gives way to a distant, lush organ which seems to push the drone out of aural focus in order to center its simple, moving melody.  

The language used throughout this review reveals the agency one often affords to sound.  In contrast, the experience of dwelling or duration evoked by the sustained tones foregrounds the effects individual sonic elements have on each other, effects more motion-oriented music can elide.  The phenomena of the epiphany is a reminder that things, thoughts, and affects do indeed have agency; that the gurgling textures and dutifully resonating tones of Martina Lussi’s “Losing Ground,” are doing things to each other as well as to the listener.  The rapid, Reichian repetition of FUJI||||||||||TA’s self-built organ as it overtakes the rich layers of drone in “Kumo” does so as well, offering the album’s most persuasive opportunity for listeners to entrain themselves to sound’s movement.

Like the mutually affecting atmosphere created by the sounds and instruments within individual tracks, the compilation itself initiates its own space across the board, illustrating a diverse array of approaches to sound: the kind of collaboration between mind and body, interior and exterior, human and non-human, that can accidentally and occasionally result in epiphany. (Jennifer Smart)

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