Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Anatomy of Sound's Song Circus on 2L Recordings

In last week's review of 2L Recordings' Mezzotints, I mentioned that I had a handful of albums in for review that might be a little too avant-garde to play at trade shows. That's too bad, because I've had so many musical epiphanies while listening to music that's "outside of the box." I think about musical pieces I've heard over the years such as Kevin Volan's White Man Sleeps or Scott Walker's The Drift or heck, even my favorite rock album of all time, Pixies' Doolittle, that have changed my tastes in profound ways because they were so challenging to me at the time.

When I first received Anatomy of Sound's Song Circus right before the holidays and stuck it in my CD player, I instantly thought to myself that this was NOT something I could bring to CES and play in my room--unless it was the end of the day, of course, and I wanted to clear the room and head back to the hotel. This collection of experimental pieces for five voices and "electronics" is definitely not in the wheel house of your average grumpy old audiophile, but if you can power through your preconceptions about songs and melodies you might find that Song Circus will evoke feelings and emotions that are as rewarding as they are unsettling.

"Through minutiae explorations into the very microlevels of sound anatomy, through vocal investigations as well as the activation of spatial premises and the discovery of timbral qualities of objects, Song Circus masters an unusual audial vocabulary that expands the idea of what music can be."

That's the brief description of this album on the liner notes, and it pretty much hits the nail on the head in a paradoxically vague way. What you'll notice first is the presence of five female voices making random sounds that dance around our definition of singing. Noises, pops, whoops and even sirens abound in this open, airy soundscape, defining spaces and daring you to hear ever closer. Then you'll notice the low rumblings in the distance, drone variations and sudden squawks that might make you jump at times--especially if you're tempted to lean forward to catch all of the tiny little details.

The overall impression is sort of a mix between ambient, Bjork and "Revolution No.9," despite the fact that these sounds are all captured organically and naturally by Morten Lindberg's microphones. You might be tempted to think that so much of Song Circus is a studio creation, but you'd be missing the point. While the first part of the album, a 12-part suite titled "Landscape and Figures," does unite the five improvised female voices with Ruben Sverra Gjertsen's sounds, which have been channeled through either eight or sixteen sound channels--Morten Lindberg's new Immersive Sound technologies, which takes surround sound to a new level of complexity, is the perfect partner for this composition--attention must be paid to how those sounds interact with the singers. This is, to a certain extent, reminiscent of the idea that an electric guitar is actually an acoustic instrument since the tonal qualities are dependent on how the guitar amp interacts with the room.

Once you get past that distinction, the second piece makes more sense. "Persepone," Ole-Henrik Moe's piece for five voices and wine glasses, is a purely acoustic exercise that focuses on "vocal sound, dynamics and microtonality." It's purer and more aesthetically soothing than "Landscapes and Figures," and yet it gives you more context to enjoy the album as a whole.

So no, you will not be humming these pieces to yourself after listening in your car on the way to work. This is brain music, to put it succinctly, something to help you define your own expectations when it comes to your musical sensibilities. Song Circus will either challenge you and expand your horizons, or it will make you head for the exits. But I can't think of a more informative recording in my entire music collection. If you patiently listen to Song Circus in its entirety, you'll emerge from the experience knowing more about your sound system and how it interacts with your listening room. You'll also know more about your brain, and how it interacts with new information.

As much as I enjoyed this album, and the way it revealed things I've never heard before, I'm even more excited about the other avant-garde recording I received from 2L. That one left me in complete awe, so check back in a couple of weeks!

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