Benoît Pioulard – Slow Spark. Soft Spoke.

Ghent based label Dauw is almost a victim of their success. I say this because of their fast rate at selling out releases. The latest of which is the re-issue and extended version on vinyl of the cassette they originally released back in November of 2017. Much like their label buddy in Eilean Rec that have a strong supporter base eager to get their hands on their limited releases. This particular record sold out during the pre-order period. The album features the original four tracks found on the initial cassette and two new tracks which have been released as a separate single (and generously with a Pay What You Want option).

“Shortly after releasing his highly acclaimed “The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter” (Kranky), Pioulard left on tour to Europe in order to promote the album. This tour took him to several distinctive places ranging from Brussels to rural France and the mystic capital of Iceland, Reykjavik.  Once returned to Seattle, these new impressions and memories formed the inspiration to makeSlow Spark, Soft Spoke”. Not surprisingly the album continues in the same vein as his tour CD “Lignin Pose” – which was repressed on vinyl by Beacon Sound – and is characterized by slow-moving lo-fi ambient textures. The album reveals Pioulard’s most melancholic side and once again shows his capabilities to bring beautiful sonic narratives with only a few instrumental layers.”

“Compound, Echo” opens up the drifting you will experience throughout the album. With the tracks constructed from Guitar, Bass, Voice, Tapes and Field Recordings (from France and Iceland), you get a hazy, static soaked wind-swept sound that makes you feel as if you are in a valley surrounded by mountains and the air is swirling around with no other interruptions. The music is the type that has a calming effect with its gentle drones moving over and around each other with notable melodic tones.

“Never, just as you Wanted” there is a sonic detritus to this track that results in a change of tone to the opener. The slight grittiness and washed away sound gives it a real distant feeling. The music is constructed of multi layered loops that have a depth of sound from melodic, almost bass line section through to the noisier drones and field recordings. While the loops are repeating there are also subtle differences in the sonics of the layers, having a small ripple like effect.

“With this, I disappear” static soaked melody slowly unfurls in an almost pure ambient vein. The ambience has a melodic center that is sandwiched by a layer of static and darker, but not dark ambient, drones. Pioulard takes his time to build the elements in both volume, intensity and drift and the result is a piece that extends out, becoming grander with each pulse of sound. The static that has appeared through the album thus far remains, but it doesn’t hold back the ambience as it becomes more light filled.

“Athanasy, 1993” I am curious about the title as “Athanasy” is defined as the absence of death or everlasting life. What does the title and particular year represent? This is the first track, for me that the guitar has been more readily identifiable with spindly sections reverberating around the now customary cloaks ambience. It’s quite a contrast with the guitar being played rather fast, while the remainder of the track is at glacial pace. But this juxtaposition of sounds serves as a circuit breaker in the music and takes it another direction as the guitar is very much the star of the piece.

“Velha, nacre” we return to musical terrain similar to that of the album’s opener, with more swirling ambience surrounding the listener and quite linear in shape. Utilizing loops the music has sections of long drones that re-start at the dying embers of the previous one, while two other sections overlap with their shorter piece drones. Musically in some ways it feels like train going through a tunnel that has intermittent sections where the tunnel is open and its going round and round in circles.

“Slow spark, soft spoke” the all important title track and second longest on the album continues the loop based music heard throughout the release. However, this time there is religious sound with the drones having the feeling of a church organ. Musically you feel as if you are floating in air (I imagine a similar sound for sky divers) with the static lightly crashing around, layers of drones that have a murkiness to them, but also a hint of darkness and a howl. The final three minutes of the track are when it really comes alive. The static becomes more present, the drones start losing their color and light and you feel as if you are descending into nothingness. The static remains for the final minute and feels like run out grooves on vinyl mixed with field recordings of someone walking and the electrical sounds emmited by the earth.

This is the type of album that requires deep listening. If you put it on without concentrating and soaking it up it can sometimes feel a bit samey. But once you focus on the music the different textures, feelings and patterns emerge and you can soak up more of the music. “Athanasy, 1993” one of the two additional tracks to the original release, is the highlight for me with the guitar pieces opening the music up to new possibilities. The vinyl is sold out at the label, but if you are lucky you may find one through a stockist.

 

 

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