GENTLEFORCE: "SACRED SPACES"
Great to see our old friend Eli from Sydney back on the scene again. Long-term Kid Shirt readers may remember his Gentle Force blog from 2 or 3 years back. Eli fell off the map for a while, but I'm glad to see he's back blogging again recently (love that installation with Lukasz Karluk!), but - not only that - he has just unleashed his first album - "Sacred Spaces" - as part of the POWWOW series on Feral Media.
Perhaps "unleashed" is, you know, the wrong word; this is - as his working moniker suggests - for the most part a very gentle-sounding album. Actually, parts of it are rather bloody lovely. The music is unpretentious and often somewhat unassuming - and is all the better for that.
I like this record loads better than the Rene Hell LP; though it's extremely unfair to try'n compare two artists who undoubtedly have very different sets of intentions/methodologies/etc I do think there are some rough parallels here in that both are playing in a vaguely similar arena - minimal(-ish) 'home-listening' electronics that for one reason or another reference/echo other older ancestral e-forms...okay, that's a pretty wide berth and I'm undoubtedly stretching things a lo-o-o-o-t here, but I am left wondering why Eli's attempts sound more successful and well-rounded to my broken old ears...
Actually, I'm really not sure why I like this album as much as I do. I know Eli via the internet - never met him in person - so I have no real obligation to say nice things about him or his work, but this CD really was a rather pleasant surprise when I heard it. I'm loathe to mention New Age or early/old school Chill Out since they often carry certain negative/pejorative connotations, but there's no getting round the fact this album carries an echo of those tropes n forms, but - fuck me - it's bucketloads better than anything you'll hear tinkling and a-swirling out of the crystal shops of Glastonbury Town. I think Loki'll love this.
There are at least three really cracking tracks here.
Opening track "Learning To Forgive" sounds like, well, something off Ashra's mid-70's "New Age of The Earth" LP filtered through a post-Dubstep sensibility. (Eli was, in fact, a member of Sydney's Southern Steppa Crew from 2006-08, who ran the Submerged night at the Abercrobie - an early-adopter Austepper)
A hestiant organ-motif circles around tentative glissando-like sounds and deep space-probe drones. When some beats finally appear, they're reticent to the point of being coy.
It's quietly, unimposingly fucking gorgeous.
Virgin-Era Gottsching or solo Peter Baumann meets Sun Electric. Early Orb or Space without the dicking about. Spacious, unflashy and elegantly simple.
Five or six plays and I'm still getting goosebumps.
"Ode To Moritz" is the album's centrepiece and it's exactly what it says on the label: a slowstepping, hiss-and-echo-smeared 13min tribute to Von Oswald. Like parts of the Rene Hell LP very little happens here - things unfold at their own pace - but unlike "Porcelaine Opera" it doesn't feel hollow or uncentred. The piece is magnificantly understated.
The use of hiss n crackle should feel, I dunno, contrived, yet somehow it doesn't. There are points where Eli uses ambi-sonic elements that should, in theory, collapse into cliche, but somehow he pulls it off. I've not quite figured out why some of these things - tinkling piano, low drones, - work when he uses them, yet have me groaning when other folks wheel them out. Like I said, I've got no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt; it just seems to genuinely work when Eli does it.
You know how some pieces of music just seem so...honest - how you can just sense the love that's been poured into them - that the person behind the music really cares about what they're doing and you can feel that vibe rising up off the music? Well, I think that maybe that's how Eli pulls it off.
We've reached a stage in the game where the idea of 'authenticity' or sincerity in music - especially in electronic music - doesn't necesarily matter any more; we can play around with the idea of plasticness or roboticity or autotuned androdyne anti-emotion; we can look back at Grace Jones or whoever and applaud the deadpan distance, the ironic detachment and so forth - I mean, it's not like we're talking about The Blues - but, fuck me, it still shows sometimes when someone actually genuinely cares and they're able - somehow - to infuse that into the music without grimacing and grunting to signpost how much emotional sparkledust they're sprinkling on their product.
I think maybe Eli's an intuitive - he's a (recently) self-taught musician/producer - that he's just going with his gut-feeling here most of the time and it's paying off.
But back to "Ode to Moritz": there's so much high-end fizz and crackle on this track at the start that it feels like you're a fucking grain of dust travelling thru the grooves of a record. Then this repeating noise emerges that sounds like a record skipping against the run-out groove at the end of a hunk o'vinyl - like he's recorded the banging of a needle against the record's inner-edge - but it slowly morphs and unfilters and, in time, it becomes a muted bass-drum.
And there's a wonderful, special feeling of surprise that comes with that realisation - that of having witnessed an act of musical alchemy - an audio transformation vector trick that you blinked and missed - when your brain finally percieves what it is that it's actually hearing.
And slowly the crackle lifts and becomes a sound similar to rain falling on a tin roof. A simple single-finger melody slowly unpicks itself, other elements gradually emerge, but it's all so beautifully underplayed, partially submerged...is that a bass-line over there, is that a...? Yet there's a sense of perpetual motion - of being in a car, of being a passenger in a car moving thru someone else's movie - I see a cityscape, blurred distant buildings...I see Berlin, Detroit...a city as a distant echo of itself....and then everything folds in and inverts, yet expands at the same time; it twists and shimmers, becomes a dream.
It's rather wonderful, is Eli's own personal appropriation/refit of Basic Channelisms into something that fits his own mythology. The last few minutes are drifty, shimmery...a glide on tropical thermals.
How did we get here, out past The Dome?
Where did the city go? How did that happen - how did it just become one more memory like that?
"New Dawn" starts almost unpromisingly - with wind-chimes and distant bird-song - but the track gradually opens itself up into a swirl of sound, a goosebumpy gauze, as if the track - the music - is folding back in on itself (I keep using variations on that phrase, but it feels right in some way), like fabric floating, slowly twisting on the wind. It sounds like a synth is playing or something, but I'm honestly not sure exactly what it is...but...but it eventually becomes subsumed by wavering, wobbly chorus-effects, so that the track seems to flicker and vibrate, an eyeball playing tricks on itself. R.E.M.-music.
And then before you really grok on how he's done it, what sounds like an oboe - but maybe it's his wife Lauren on melodica? - suddenly slides out of the mix. It's like a magic trick. A piece of musical conjuring. And is that a guitar...and a bass guitar too...? I'm not sure, but it's turned into some sort of gorgeous psychedelicised Virginia Astley garden chamber-piece. Sunlight on floaty white lace. A tea-party.
Those are my three favourites, I think. But, you know, the others are pretty good too. A couple of the others are really creeping up on me.
How did he do that?
Because I did what I did - what I always do - because I make judgements and extrapolations that can sometimes misrepresent an artist - I asked Eli if he could make some sort of statement about his own music to act as a balance, rather than just inflict my own biased daydreams - my opinions - on you:
This has been the first release I have done and its something that has taken me quite some time to make. I have taken in a lot of personal experiences, some beautiful, some sad, and tried to re-create these moments through sound. The album, for me, is like revisiting the past and places that I had these special moments at. Some of these places, or spaces so to speak, are real and I can revisit physically, but other experiences are beyond that... they were felt/experienced through dreams or visions. I have tried to capture the feeling and atmospheres that these moments had and channel this into my music. I wanted to make a album that would take the listener sonically to these spaces and for them to hopefully experience something special... something sacred.
Also... I’m drawn to music that has a physical presence. I like music that has weight to it and warmth. I’m drawn to music that, when played at decent volume, you can feel in your body just as much as hearing it. Soundsystem music (dub/jungle/dubstep) has had a big influence on me but also artists such as Earth, Boris, GAS, Eleh, Murcof, Stephen O’Malley, Moritz Von Oswald... all artists that concentrate on making physical music, music that is designed to vibrate the body in various ways. I feel that this is a important aspect in my own music. I want to create music that consumes listeners when they hear it live or at home.
Hope that gives you some insight into what the album is about. I have started to write another album as well as working on a few new projects that will be released under a different name. Will keep you updated.
Earth, Boris, O'Malley, etc...heh: bet you didn't expect to hear some of those names, didja?
I think Eli's created something here that works on a whole bunch of different levels. And even if you just wanna treat it on the most superficial of those - as some sort of late-era chill-out album, then I think he's probably just made one of the best fucking chill-out albums in a long while.
But it's a lot more than that.
It's certainly an album that grows in stature. Keep your eye on this guy.