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Deaf Center - Low Distance [Sonic Pieces - 2019]

Deaf Center made their name in the mid-2000s amid a wave of artists exploring the intersections between modern classical and some the darker regions of electronic music. Their debut album Pale Ravine (2005) became a standard bearer for the style, several iterations of which were produced by artists on the Type record label from 2005 to 2010. The duo of Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland released a follow-up, Owl Splinters, in 2011, but since then - barring one short EP - the duo have primarily focussed on other projects. Low Distance is released on the boutique label Sonic Pieces.

The development of Deaf Center's sound reflects the development of the two member's solo projects. In particular Skodvin's work as Svarte Greiner. While Pale Ravine was packed full of samples and doom ladened arrangements, as was Svarte Greiner's debut Knife, his subsequent work has emphasised a more organic sound, utilizing bowed and scraped strings and much more holistic use of studio effects. This approach is continued on tracks like Entity and Gathering where Totland's sparse playing is woven into the rising strings and light ambience, emerging as if from a shadow shrouded valley. The latter in particular makes good use of sub-base drones to offset Totland's ambling piano motifs, which near the song's conclusion seems to take flight away from the oncoming storm.

Those who picked up Skodvin's two solo releases under his own name (Flare and Flame) will be familiar with his distinctive take on "nocturnal Americana" and the way in which he is able to make familiar acoustic instruments sound haunting and uncanny. Plucked and scraped cello strings form the most common counterpoint to Totland's piano playing, which veers from the most minimal gestural colouring on Faded Earth to more fully realised melodic passages, Undone and the beautiful album closer Yet to come.

Where the record really comes together is when both players seem to be contributing equally, taking turns to drive the composition forward. Movements / The Ascent is a highlight in this regard as at first Totland's keys stir slowly out of a foundation of feedback provided by Skodvin, who in turn seems to conjure up waves of static and droning sounds to envelop the piano. Just as it seems like he might succeed, the sound thins out allowing Totland's slowly cycling melodies to breath, only for another strange shimmering effect to well up, framing the whole composition in a sense of frozen anticipation. But there is no resolution, and the piece fades to silence.

There was always an air of romanticism that went along with Deaf Center, even at their darkest. Here, that has given way - as is perhaps appropriate in these times - to a sense of loss and forlorn impotence. If Pale Ravine evoked the beauty of ruined abbeys and remote Northern European forests, Low Distance reaches towards an inner desolation, and a idea beauty that can only be sustained in the recollection of things past. It's a wonderfully restrained and paced record; never breaking its slow stride or threatening to rise above the highly introspective mood it creates from the start. It is thus a record very much of the present.

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

Duncan Simpson
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