Damian Valles - Nonparallel [Experimedia - 2012]"Nonparallel" is a four movement work of Damian Valles, according to the liner notes constructed from samples of "avant garde Western Classical composers and computer music released on the Nonesuch label in 60's and 70's".
The samples have been manipulated so that the structures found in the original music are stripped and only liquid forms of their metallic textural essences are left. In contrast to the original music, which was often strikingly gestural, this music is free of surprises and sudden events. Each track is something of a cloud of sound, with a deep cushion of reverb underscoring it all. It is a steady glide through a slowly morphing nocturnal dreamscape, where no sound dominates any other, only merges into the whole, bearing more similarity of spirit to dark ambient composers such as Lull and Lustmord than to the original musique concrete, but feeling distinctly less lonely and empty.
In truth I have difficulty hearing the 'analog' in much of this album beyond the obligatory crackles and pops, but that doesn't turn out to be a bad thing. There is a vibrant, perfectionist density to the soundscapes that is truthfully a product of DAWs and the computer age, and I can see how the album could have taken three years to create. The tightly knit sound fabric is a digital ecosystem in which additional depth is always available to the discerning ear.
The first two tracks have a decidedly cold, atonal feel. Crackles, clicks, pops and stuttering tones that could have once been analog synthesizers are muddied into shadowy undulating currents. In each frequency band there is a curiously twisting, restless sound, and behind that sound, another sound. In the second movement, the underlying chord is dissonant and tense, and some string timbres become obvious, only to descend again into a granulated haze. As with the best ambient music, the swirling vortex of reverberation evokes sensations of smallness in the face of time's steady erosion and rearranging of all matter, yet at the same time unity with it all.
Like sun appearing from behind the clouds, the third movement is a wash of beautiful melodic synthesizer drones with an ebb and flow of muffled static beneath it. This track is quite transparent and relatable compared to the others, which are impenetrably opaque. Muted ghosts of vibraphones sketch a vague paradise in my mind, and the string loop that swells to prominence over the first few minutes has a rustic nostalgic feeling not unlike the music of Stars of the Lid. Later in the piece, the soundscape surges with windy gusts of static. This is my favorite track on the album, though it is certainly well complimented by the other movements.
The 4th piece is similar to the first two, gloomy and thick with brooding dissonant resonances and abrasive metallic harmonics. I don't find it particularly pleasing to the ear, but it has a hellish presence, to be sure.
The liner notes are a long-winded explanation stating how the composer wishes to 'explore into [the original music's] very lineage and extrapolate something essential from it'. I feel the album is better enjoyed without these statements, as they say nothing meaningful about the music's emotional content. Reading them soured me somewhat towards the album.
Damian Valles "Non Parallel" is a multi-leveled, thoughtfully created ambient work with a lot of intuitive mastery behind it, a certain hypnotic way of unfolding and an intelligently arranged sound space. I'm not sure whether it matters in the end that the work was made from samples of older music, as the digital processing has rendered the original sounds mostly unrecognizable, but there is a lot of food for thought for anyone whose mind can fill in the blanks when they are surrounded by evocative textures (as one is when they put this album on headphones). The album could have used a bit more variety and emotional relatability (which we had a glimpse of in the 3rd movement), but it's a wonderful piece of work for any fan of deep listening and ambient music.Josh Landry