Review of The Gorilla Variations [12k2013]

Squid’s Ear (.COM)

The Gorilla Variations from Molly Berg and Stephen Vitiello at first sound like curious, snake-charming music. It’s looped chimes, stereo panning and artful layering have a slight ethnic flavor; and at points it’s almost as though the duo are debating the limits of the folk tradition. Together they toy with fragments of traditional song, a snippet of vocal melody, vibrations similar to the deep sea harmonies of humpback whales, broken rhythms; their spacious, almost cosmic arrangements soaking up all of these nuances and recombining them in varying permutations as in a dream.

That’s perhaps what the album most sounds like, a dream; but one in which most everything, even the craggy cover image, seems to have its part. The sculpted approach helps everything from becoming merely scattered. It also has the added effect of diluting the sense of location. Environmental sounds such as trickling water, particular and yet universal, only further this effect all the more, allowing the work to come closer as it moves further away.

While the work, especially at first, might seem to exhibit an almost pantheistic awe of the natural (and digital) world(s), with time other sentiments surface; the final three tracks, in particular, with their eventful horn drones, laced with clarinet harmonies and surreptitious activity, see the previously meditative engagement with sound become awash with a sort of heightened sensitivity and vulnerability. It doesn’t build up many events during its duration, in fact it’s some fifty minutes go by like a flash, but it’s nothing if not a pleasant castle in the sky. – Max Schaefer

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