12k continue their stellar year in microsound with a new album from Canadian Christopher Bissonnette. “Wayfinding” follows on from the releases of Minamo & Moskitoo, Federico Durand, Michael Grigoni & Stephen Vitiello, as well as the two other releases from Giuseppe Ielasi and the new duo This Valley Of Old Mountains that are covered in this review. The label has shown quite comprehensively how their design aesthetic translates nicely to the vinyl format with some of these releases.
“Wayfinding” is Christopher Bissonnette’s sixth solo studio release and his first, of hopefully many, for 12k. The album embodies an evolution of Bissonnette’s work, moving from an exclusively synth-based series of explorations to an amalgam of electronics and acoustic methods. Each track seeks to find grandeur on a diminutive scale. Bissonnette’s focus has shifted from sweeping pastoral drones to introspective passages with delicate melody and elusive harmonies interlaced with studio and field recordings. This minute scale is also reflected in a photographic series that studies the domestic landscape of home. The sequence of images transforms the banality and insignificance of the familial interior into expansive vistas and bucolic panoramas. “Wayfinding” is Bissonnette’s most intimate and gauzy work to date and executed with beautiful restraint.”
While Christopher Bissonnette is a new name to the 12k roster he has been releasing music since the early 00’s with releases coming out on imprints such as Kranky, Home Normal, 1631 Recordings and Dronarivm to name a few. His most recent release was the stunning “Wine Dark Sea” album while maintaining the minimalism of “Wayfinding” was in a more drone orientated style. Bissonnette describes his oeuvre as that he has “actively explored visual art, sound and video in a variety of contexts ranging from art galleries to music venues. Over the past twenty years Bissonnette has continued to expand his aural vocabulary and production techniques incorporating elements of music concrete, electroacoustics, field recording and modular synthesis.”
The descriptor microsound is somewhat apt but also restricting. It reveals the delicacy of the materials and sounds, but also comes across as a rather one dimensional idea which Bissonnette’s music clearly is not. Best experienced with headphones on and no background noise, the pieces on “Wayfinding” reveal all the subtle little intricacies of themselves and show a multi-layered and intriguing soundscapes. Bissonnette creates these miniatures of sound which reveal texture, tone, shape and space as well as a juxtaposition of sources which open up a variety of possibilities for the listener to enquire. The Electroacoustic style is noticeable as much as an Ambient one with the pieces nicely balancing between an accessible and intellectual approach.
Naturally depending on the listeners taste their ears will bend to a particular sound or style in the way that they process the works. The one thing that becomes apparent from the beginning is this is not one dimensional music. Bissonnette laces all these ‘Easter eggs’ of sound into his compositions which can then influence how you hear and receive them. With usual reviews I tend to try in the best way that I can with my limited language, describe the pieces, but for “Wayfinding” I will skip this approach and let the reader discover the pieces for themselves as I don’t think I could really do them justice. “Wayfinding” is available on Lp and Digital and comes recommended.
“Five Wooden Frames marks the return of Italian artist Giueppe Ielasi to 12k after his captivating polyrhythmic explorations on Aix (12k1051, 2009). He completely abandoned the guitar in the mid 2000’s to explore minimal electro-acoustic abstractions (see his releases on his own Senufo Editions) or rhythmic and groove-based music (see his Stunt series, the Inventing Masks project, and Aix and Tools on 12k).
Once again, however, the guitar has become his main focus, both as an instrument in the traditional sense and as source of sound material. The sections on Five Wooden Frames were produced using continuously shifting and modulating loops of acoustic guitar glissandos resulting in pitches that slide around in a haunting, yet spirited juxtaposition of delicate and strangely playful textures.”
It seems only yesterday I was reviewing the re-issue of his “Aix” album on the Keplar label and “Five Wooden Frames” comes my way, co-incidentally his first for 12k since the original 2009 release of “Aix”. With this album Ielasi has utilised acoustic guitar recordings and re-shaped them into haunted drone like pieces. In some way they remind me of wire recordings (the material not the band) and in an other way like William Basinski’s loop based works because of their hypnotic feel. Initially I was not sure what to make of the five numbered pieces, so I viewed my approach to listening as to what Ielasi was doing with the instrument (and is post production of the recordings) as much as I was taking in the sound.
For me “Five Wooden Frames” is about exploring the instrument and reconfiguring how we see it. The title kind of alludes to source material with the wooden frame obviously being the acoustic guitar, but in some way I also think of for example a picture frame and how the music of these pieces is anything contained within the four side of the frame, much like a guitar is only a guitar until an artist expands on it’s potential. Some of the pieces are more recognisable because of the source material, others are more haunting in the way the music lulls and hangs like with “02” and the way it also feels rusty and raw. “03” shows that Ielasi’s approach to the instrument is one of generating textures rather than creating tones. For most of the tracks the music is one in which remains within a certain intensity, but with “05” the music is one which the depth is increased a bit more and the more scratchy/rumbling aspects of the instrument comes to the fore.
“Five Wooden Frames” is as experimental as it is accessible and shows an artist who knows how to balance his works. It includes familiar and unfamiliar sounds in a way continues exploring what an instrument can offer up in terms of sound. “Five Wooden Frames” is available on CD and Digital.
“This Valley Of Old Mountains quietly creates the folklore of an imaginary land. From a hemisphere apart, Taylor Deupree and Federico Durand share simple sounds with complex stories. Their music balances an edge between translucency and exploration, focusing on obscurity, repetition and a shared fascination of the mountains between them.”
This Valley Of Old Mountains offer what you would hope for on their self titled debut. This is not meant as an insult, rather that the listener when looking at the pairing of Deupree and Durand would have expectations or hopes to how the release might sound. With Durand’s “Alba” album that 12k put out back in May the sounds was quite static soaked and environmental in nature. With this release these elements are still part of the sound, but in the case of the static, the music is more clearer (if still distant) and the environmental approach is still there but you get a sense of (sound) explorers comparing their field journals.
Some of the music has a vignette feel, but on the album’s epic track “Vist” clocking in at eight minutes and twenty four seconds the duo really excel in creating a slice of hazy delicate beauty that is very subtle in all it’s relaxed charms and micro melodies. A feature of some of the pieces on the album is the barely there qualities which is as important as the more present qualities. This quality for me is one which evokes a place of isolation where there is a stillness and calm and the only sounds you can hear are those that are created from the earth and nature.
Despite a long love affair with loud music that has undoubtedly affected my hearing, I can still hear those little treasures of sound that seem to be sewn into the music that can only be really captured by headphone listening. The albums final piece (and my second favourite after the aforementioned “Vist”) “Flykra” exhibits this with subtle slashes of sound which remind me of the rotor blades on a helicopter. You know with both Deupree and Durand’s work you will be getting a style of music that has an organic feel, one which engages with it’s surroundings as well as it does with it’s sounds and this is very much the case with this album. No curve balls are thrown in, just an honest and reflective work that fans of both would naturally appreciate. Each musician compliments the other and the results speak for themselves.
When listening to this album I think about how many of the 12k principles that this directly interacts with or represents. These include: *Treat your audience as they are: intelligent, passionate lovers of art and sound, *Never try to be perfect. Beauty is imperfection. and * Explore sound as art, as a physical phenomenon — with emotion. For these reasons this record is one which perfectly encompasses the artists individual backgrounds and the label itself. “This Valley Of Old Mountains” is available on CD and Digital.