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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

James Saunders & Apartment House - Assigned #15 [Another Timbre - 2015]

Composer James Saunders' piece, titled "Assigned #15", is performed here by the ensemble Apartment House, of which Saunders is also a member.  Presented as classical music, the swampy, uneasy soundscape on this disk is as brooding, haunted and unsettling as any ominous 80's industrial recording.

It is a mixture of sparse, antimusical use of orchestral timbres, heavy room noise and muffled ambient effects.  Like Ligeti or Schoenberg, the emphasis is placed on the brightly gleaming treble ranges of the horns and strings, and the gradations of anxiety within their most dissonant intervals.  The numerous wind players rarely join in unison, sounding out forlorn tones individually which bend downward in sickly despair as they end.

This chaotic, arrythmic mass of uncomfortably clashing tones is a 'composition' in the tradition of John Cage and other writers of highly specific instructions which seem to produce nearly arbitrary results.  The sheer randomness of the players' activity creates an eerie emotional detachedness.

A sort of lonely, windy howl underlies the scattered activity at most points, drawing the chaos together into a continuity of drone.  The saturated and insistent whine of shortwave radio static (Saunders' instrument of choice) builds up over time, and overtakes the mix gradually, a persistent electric hum of vitality.  The texture of the drone is sour, detuned and far from meditative or reassuring, reminding me of the surreal and nonsensical thoughts which creep into consciousness just before sleep.

In this regard, it describes accurately a sensitive, visionary state of thinking, as coldly offputting as it initially seems.  This darkly glittering gem of an album could be filed comfortably next to John Zorn's "Absinthe" and Nurse WIth Wound's "Soliloquy for Lilith".  It possesses the rare luminous blackness of artists such as Coil and Cyclobe, here achieved through acoustic means.  It is magickally charged space.  Recommended to fans of uncomfortable ambient music, or artists like Z'EV or John Zorn

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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