Review of Chessa [12k1030]

Cracked (AT)

Of course he uses those crackling sounds that I usually associate with the noise of playing an old, used record on a regular record player. Fitting to the nostalgic addition of vinyl memories, it is Brian Eno who obviously holds a healing hand over the music on Chessa. May I call this retro-ambient now? Seriously now, Dan Abrams has released classic records on Mille Plateaux about two or three years ago, this is his third full album under the moniker of Shuttle358, and Chessa shows that he hasn’t lost an inch of ability. This is very special and fine music, refined with love and ingenuity.

Is it music accompanying a photo-book or is the photo-book compagnion to an ambient CD? If you ask Dan Abrams, the artist behind both, he would most probably answer along the lines of both being important and unique works of art, which are able to stand on their own, but of course find an interconnecting influence in the interests and focus of the artist. Well, that was obvious. Since I only have the CD in front of me, which has only a few examples of Abrams abilities as a photographer plus eleven musical tracks, I cannot fully judge. But according to what I see in the nice digipak of Chessa (the book will go by the same name) I can see some traits that seem to span through the photographic work of Abrams: His focus on details of everyday big city life, for instance. Or the fact that human beings appear only partly within the pictures, but most often just outside. And that he prefers a washy, blurred Quick-cam-type of shoot. And all of this is directly transferable to describe his music. Except for the blurry atmospheres of the visuals. His production is clean and crisp, with the various layers and sounds of his textural pieces – the according trend-name would be “microsound” – worked out really well and in high resolution. But as a soundtrack to live, these tracks only cover minute details of sounds, although in great depth. After all, Abrams is first and foremost a musician.

Chessa taken as a CD of music, is a fine example of the current trend of reviving warmth and organity within electronic music. Which takes it a definite step away from what I have learned to know as ambient music (which in turn might justify the coining of a new term, i.e. microsound). The first track slowly fades from nothing into the audible area, with a drone bass-rumble and memories of crying oriental horns in the background. Which might be electronic glitches after all, but who is able to say. Comparisons to deep sea diving in an ocean of sound press themselves to the foreground and it would be the easy way out to describe this CD as beautiful, rich and lush ambient drones, and leave it at that. Though completely justified so, I have to add. But that would be at the same level as mentioning that there are no drums on this record – which is true – but leaving out the fact that there are no traditional instruments on this record (except for the very last track, the wonderful, almost eight minute long “scrapbook” which has also an ordinary drumset and some beautiful lonesome guitar lines. The boundaries are growing closer and closer), or even that no songs in a more narrow or hereditary sense of the word are being played. The meaning of sound is something more profound and important than that (I hope).

In this case the most striking aspect is the divergence between the superficial simplicity and the underlying complexity. Like an hitherto undiscovered netherworld filled with live and bristling energy but hidden underneath a small surface that helps to keep up the idea, that we are walking on solid ground. Thereby Chessa might reference the instability and fragility of the modern societ it comes from. Big cities, for instance, are a complex and very vulnerable structures, that are strongly dependent on the exploitation of their surrounding areas for living space, recreation, fresh air, etc. A few minor incidents might come together and tip the fragile balance of such a complex societal system over the edge and all hell breaks lose. Just remember the LA riots in the nineties or the soccer riots in Italy just last week to get my drift. As Shuttle358 Dan Abrams manages to keep the surface intact, his music are solid if a little wobbly geographic structures, but with very very weak surfaces. And you can see all the different creatures and structures, movments and eruptions within the structure easily. But also as if blurred by the surface. Like watching an aquarium on acid.

The life underneath is squiggly, blushing and evolving in rapid tempo without seeming fastforwarded. Even the noise and the smoke blisters make up for a harmonious and enjoyable whole. Some colours or strange animals seem to dive up, get close, look around and drown again. Just like life in a wildlife reservation. Even a track called “logical” makes me see dar, green woods ablaze with the call of birds, buzzing of insects and the wild energy of predators. And there I sit listening through muted ears painting this picture in my head. Seeing and hearing are usually regarded as the two most important senses of humans. Being a musician and a photographer (or painter or any other kind of graphic artist) means combining those two. So, hats of to Dan Abrams.

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