- In Atoms
What’s in atoms? Besides protons, neutrons, and electrons, they’re mostly space. Likewise, between the bass and a penumbra of upper partials, IN ATOMS leaves space for listeners to float like the occupants of the rowboat in his accompanying visuals. Soft-focus footage of ruffled seas and deserted building sites projected over themselves in various grades for 10 minutes at a time while the music runs and runs – it’s ambient, but with a serrated edge. Many would reach for the word ‘austere’ when describing this kind of soundscape, but the range is too generous – oceanographic rumbles give way to cicadian hisses, with the occasional flipping of plastic when changing tape loops, one of In Atoms’ fundamental techniques. This is luxury minimalism received in reverential silence by an audience of connoisseurs who hang on every changing breeze.
Substituting tape with wood, hair, gut, and air, LAURA CANNELL makes apologies for writing “miserable music” but, like the best of British folklore, a grimoire’s worth of influences has morbid appeal. Her brief explanations are useful context for a series of pieces inspired by rutting deer, Black Shuck, Mesrop Mashtots (inventor of the Armenian alphabet, since you ask), and quotes from the music of 14th century polyphonist Guillaume de Machaut and Henry VIII.
On the surface, the droning fiddle of All The Land Ablaze and For Sorrow Salt Tears seems English in a very specific time and place – the fenlands of East Anglia, four or five centuries ago. True, that’s Cannell’s home turf, and the source material of Cathedral Of The Marshes is of a similar vintage, but the violin never once sounded like this – all four strings throbbing powerfully over her adapted bow, its horsehair slackened so much the whole instrument can pass between the two. Conversely, her pieces for twin recorders – Deer’s Bark, for example – might sound like the vanguard of contemporary folk, but they too have an antecedent in the auloi of ancient Greece. Laura Cannell holds the respect of an audience which, however small, fills this dark, subterranean space, as shamans and bards have done further back than human memory.
Stuart Miles O’Hara / @ohasm1