Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Mark Harris - An Idea of North/Learning To Walk

Mark Harris is an experimental architect of soundscape compositions. Relying on natured 
 investigation and personal reflections - a feeling that comes across almost like that of a field recording - his tunes provide a more open and debatable quality in their deliverance. Quite fitting then (or unfitting depending on your interpretation) that on his new release, we find a five-movement mix of surreal discovery and avalanching interconnectivity that, Harris reveals, were inspired and based on a recent experience snowed-in and isolated in his log cabin which doubled up as a makeshift recording studio for himself.

So what formality, and indeed shape, of sound make up these compositions? Interestingly, though this is an album fortified in progression and transition, it's the very naturism and field at which these sounds draw from that take priority over anything synthetic or inorganic in construction.

'Softly Lies Sleeping' is almost totally devoid of any synths or computer-generated instrumentation - a faint hollow of a drone hidden beneath the crumpling of flowing water and tweeting spring birds that in reality, make up the majority of the sound's mix. The drone does pick up but never really takes full control. And even when it reaches its peak of performance, it still manages to keep the song's balance in check, nods to the work of ambient seniors Steve Roach, apparent for example.

'In Slow Motion She Falls' takes a more whimsical and unflurried shape to this sound thereafter. Field recordings faded, the drone begins to expand into multiple varieties of pitch and wavering delicacy. It's a pattern that feels almost looping on itself throughout, but the balance between the high and low sounds bring out a very broad variation on music that at times, may find itself limited to long and over-stretched single notation and heavily-drowned delay. Not that this is always a bad thing, but it does run the risk of feeling somewhat self-indulgent and indistinguishable from just being a continuation of one overall sound.

The album's self-titled piece - which here, becomes the stand-out highlight in track length, nearly twenty minutes to be exact - delves into, almost in response to this, more shadowy and confined lands. It's this section of the album that feels the most transitionary and transporting, rather. Starting off in a gleam of ambiance, the rumble and gargle of background noise soon sends this progression of sound drifting down a channel of lightly-tapped percussion bells and, for the first time, the use of key-based instruments, a la, the piano. The newly-appearing instrument doesn't bring about a drastic change, nor does it cement the sound's continuing context. Rather, it breathes new life into what may have previous run too linear and flat for any means of development. It's not something that's truly captivating or immediate to the ear, but it does give the composition some much-needed dimension to its character.

Returning to this frosty, ambiguous searching, 'A Place of Safety/All Things Will Change' is certainly the album's most darkest moment. Like previous sections, it uses the track's somewhat limited timeframe (even for an ambient piece, it's odd how such track-lengths may be considered short) to create an atmosphere of the unknown; of the immeasurable and yet the feeling of wanting to discover it. Beyond its swipe of orchestrally-moving change in pitch, the piece soon sails back to its normality of wavering drone. 'Towards An Ending And Reprise' is indeed more of an outro - and evaluation - than of an separate part to this forty-four minute composition. The signature pitched drone continues to trail off, leaving a somewhat timid execution of solitary background noise to fill the remaining two-and-a-half minutes.

There is a recurring theme running through this record. True, it may not be as easy to grasp, or even recognize, as a semantic for any given concept album or similarly-transgressive ambient album before it. But Harris hasn't set out to create something based on a subject matter he had thought up (or even experienced) eons ago. Rather, this is a piece devoted to the response of the now, the here and there of both the surrounding interior and exterior that lays beyond it. And beyond that distinguishable barrier of the visible outside is where this album stands more apparent. Call it a reaction, a premonition, or even a prediction...but much like this record, the World before us can be a surreal and at times, indecipherable place.


1 comment:

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