I don't appreciate journalists who make a review about themselves, but bear with me...
The last United States election paralyzed me as a writer / creative individual / human being who, despite being a cynical ape, wants to have hope. "The only thing that saved me has always been music," wrote the Beastie Boys; but in the weeks after shocking results of who will represent a place I call home, I could function only by listening to my nostalgic classics: Joy Division, Bauhaus, Can, Depeche Mode, Penderecki, Takemitsu. No new music for me while I'm hiding under this blanket.
But I dragged myself down to the studio one day, put iTunes on album shuffle, laid on the floor, and The Presence of Air Particles Ignited by Memory (serendipitously) popped up on random. Having 400 GB of music — some of which I've never listened to more than once — I had no idea what this was. I shut my eyes and let these five bubbles nudge me around before looking at my monitor to identify these wonderful noisemakers.
The trio of Ernesto Rodrigues (viola, harp, objects), Katsura Yamauchi (alto saxophone) and Carlos Santos (electronics) creates a meditative soundscape founded in drone, loose pulses and a breathy undertow. Each work is a deep, labored procession of inhale and exhale.
The fourteen-minute "Presence" induces a relaxed swaying from side to side, as if slowly twirling a dress in front of a mirror, or lovingly kneading bubbles out of clay. Supple warm, synthetic waves fill a backdrop for key clacks, staccato, reedy riffs; Rodrigues' forceful drag across viola (or harp?) puts a near Hendrix attack over the calm. The electrical big screen remains, while Yamauchi provides a subtle counterpoint of light, wheezing swells, and Rodrigues occasionally pops up with springy pizzicato blips. After a brief stint of Santos assuming control of the airwaves with a complex, evolving set of harmonic waves, he peels back in lieu of a duet of viola and sax engaged in a caress of whispers and coarse bowing. "Air" roots itself in a hushed, arpeggiated sax ostinato in the left speaker, Santos' distant hums in the middle and Rodrigues clawing and gnawing from mid-range to the highest rung on the fretboard.
Bits of ideas (i.e. crackling AM radio sounds, woody wrenching and blurry percussive knocks) are added to the group's aesthetic throughout, but the abovementioned approach is explored to its last. Everything is emotionally neutral, guarded, the three musicians supporting each other as a pod and alternating roles on who should eke the piece forward. However, the closer, "Memory," is the effect of blinds suddenly drawn and an acclimation to a warmth after enduring a frigid night, or the first whiffs of fresh air after crawling from the depths of a cave. That isn't a negative reflection on the previous four works, but an assertion that "Memory" is the perfect, unexpected closure. The piece hangs around with a focus on gentle strokes and cloud-like gestures (plus an ensemble augmentation courtesy of Santos). Consonance is obtained — not by a familiar major chord, but in the impression that the music is moving, no longer static.
The Presence of Air Particles Ignited by Memory is a reminder to me that there is something beyond the 4/4, vanilla I IV V chord progression. It is free and reaches through nebulae and black holes to return with the notion that there is still creativity to be mined in a world that wants to kill us.
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