Steve Peters + Steve Roden - Not A Leaf Remains As It Was [12K - 2012]West Coast sound artists Steve Roden and Steve Peters had been planning on working together on a voice-based project since 1995 when they toured with experimental vocalist Anna Homler. Fifteen years later they entered Doug Haire's studio in Seattle and spent three days recording their voices along with a small array of acoustic instruments and other objects to produce this fascinating release.
Sticking to their experimental praxis of designing a system to somewhat randomly generate a score, they took a series of romanised, but untranslated, Japanese jisei - metaphorical poems about death - and, ignoring their meaning, cut them into a bank of "phonemes to put in their mouth". Around these decontextualised fragmented instructions they intuitively improvised a serene and focused sound world in four
Assumptions of challenging, atonal results of chance operations are quickly put to rest as soon as the album opens. The slow bloom of a single exquisitely extended chord on a pump organ curls and swells, tentatively inspected by the rougher textures of bowed strings and encouraged by the furtive rustling of percussive objects. This small pool of instruments is joined on later tracks by melodica, koto and a piano; their simple, slow refrains calmly combine to provide rich harmonies that, instead of evoking the melancholy of death, inspire the reverence of life.
Indeed, the only ghostly passage is on the third piece, 'Water Veins', where for the most part their voices are hauntingly whispered amidst the gentle chimes of finger cymbals. But throughout the rest of the disk, Roden's and Peter's song has feminine qualities as their tenor voices, impossible to tell apart, cry notes in a broken language to form choral contemplations whose melodies remind of some of Arvo Pärt's minimal compositions.
Despite deliberately avoiding any Japanese musical tropes, the overall effect feels rather oriental to these untutored Western ears. This is probably due to the choice of instruments they play at a Zen-like pace to evoke a sense of a purposeful ritual to soothe the mind. The result, despite being considered as 'lowercase' music by its composers, has the strength to eschew suddenness and impose a wholly therapeutic environment with an Eastern air.Russell Cuzner