It’s hard not to form ideas about an artists sound from reading a description in an email. Christopher Whitley mentioned that he is an Austin, Texas-based Canadian Violinist and Electronic musician. With an instrument such as violin (or cello or piano for that matter) it can lead you to a fairly generic idea of what the music may sound like. This is not the case, something I quickly discovered on pressing play. “Heavy Sleepers” released on the Patient Sounds (Intl) label is the follow-up to the “Hecca Autre” release on Audio. Visuals. Atmospheres from the start of 2018 and is anything but a generic violin release.
“As a composer, Christopher’s primary focus is on expanding the potential of the solo violin, incorporating technology, electronic music and interactive visual art. Blending classical music, popular music and a variety of improvised styles, he has performed across the United States and Canada. “Heavy Sleepers” is a set of succinct, dense, and melodically haunting baroque vignettes plucked from digital somnambulant wandering. Composed predominantly with violin with computer processing, and accompanied on several tracks with the voice of Kumiko Sakamoto. These songs feel both a contemporary work of electronic music as much as the phantom of lost impressionist sonatas since jammed through the bandwidth and ruptured. Wandering a dozy parlor, through murky melodies and hair-fine textures, driving through visions hunting for misshapen pearls.”
“Fevers” straight away you are saturated by drones that come in surges. Dark in color with an icy cold feel, they almost have the rhythm of blood being pumped around. Initially consisting of singular drones, towards the end of the track additional drones are added with a lighter, but still icy cold feel. Not much is happening within the piece, but it acts like an intro due to its relative (in the drone world) brevity.
“Variants (slonimsky)” combines ambience, drones, micro electronics and a fair bit of experimental techniques to create a track, that at times sounds a bit ominous with its opening tones and rumbles through to an alien like environment of melodic, but eerie tones. The music remains to have a rumbling sound, like it was recorded in a cave, with percussive elements that are relatively random mixing in with the tones and the melodies to create an experimental soundscape.
“Transients” rapidly hurtling drones that cascade from left to right bathe the listener in a kaliedescope of sound. The music feels almost like you are in a tunnel and sounds are swirling past you only to return and loop around. The texture changes subtly as the intensity and variations change. With the way the music starts and ends, the feeling you get is that it is from an excerpt of a larger piece.
“Heavy Sleepers” slowly building with off kilter electrical tones and whispered manipulated vocals from Kumiko Sakamoto, the music has a relaxing undulating feel, like something bobbing on water – perhaps a person floating. There is a melodic edge to the track that is barely noticeable, but important. The piece is the most melodic of the album’s works so far, with a feeling of drifting away.
“Deeper Sleeper” a track that combines icy tones, distant violin rumble (the clearest violin parts I have noticed on the album) and granular sound. The track works in waves and loops, ever so slightly building on each element with the violin and electronics shining through. Fusing the Ambient/Drone/Electronic styles with the more controlled Violin works in this track.
“Flinty or Loving” a brief piece that sounds more austere and sounds like it is using more of the violin and then manipulating the sounds that come from it. Minimal in nature, the track is about creating tones and then extending them out.
“Empty Sleepers” sounds like a combination of orchestral sounds and claustrophobic drones sounds. The track is dense with layers on top of layers swirling and ever-moving. Violin is central to the core of the track with its tone shining through in the top layer of sound.
“New Lakes” straight away Whitley takes into a widescreen sound world where elements move, grow and build. Coming in waves are a variety of tones with a general windswept/storm feel as the music pulses in. The music, while heading g in a singular direction is always changing as its ebbs and flows, rises and falls, creating this ever growing breast which is in the same company as the title track in its vision. Towards the end of the track the music pushes the sonic intensity up a notch to almost distorted territory.
“Angling” the obvious violin makes itself known once more on this track which feels more experimental and possibly improvised. The track follows on from the noisier end of “New Lakes” mixing it up with the darker rumbling elements of earlier pieces to create this overpowering swell of sound on the precipice ready to topple over before violin enters and changes the track completely. The violin is part of the drones, but also as a feature solo instrument with a free form and at times cut up feel to it. Quite a track of two separate halves and a brave way to end the album on.
This is a drone release. Not obvious in its sound, but you sense the importance of violin in it’s construction and in the tone of the pieces. The tracks that work best are those with more elements contained within them, or more things going on within the tracks. If Whitley follows those tracks that push the envelope, then his music will continue to evolve and become richer for it.