Review of Not A Leaf Remains As It Was [12k1069]

Textura (CA)

<i>Not A Leaf Remains As It Was</i> grew out of experiences Steve Peters and Steve Roden shared in 1995 when they toured as a trio with singer Anna Homler and discovered how much they liked how their voices harmonized. Thinking that they might collaborate one day on a voice-based project, they then had to contend with the issue of what they might sing about, as neither was interested in conventional lyric-writing. The solution presented itself in the form of a book of Japanese jisei (poems written by monks on their death bed and presented in an English translation and Romanized Japanese)—material that the two could regard more in terms of pure sound than as lyrical content.

Ensconced within a Seattle recording facility in November 2010, the two eschewed electronic instruments as instrumental support for their voices, opting instead for natural sound sources (pump organ, piano, melodica, turtle shells, leaves, bells, etc.) and improvised freely and worked intuitively, until they emerged three days later with the album material in its raw form. The four settings that evolved out of those sessions hang in the air, delicately upheld by a connecting thread of a vocal utterance, bowed string, or reverberant piano chord.

A becalmed tone is set at the outset by “Winds Through Bleak Timber,” where gentle vocalizing arises, so softly that it can’t help but invite comparison to Jonsi’s singing in Sigur Rós, while an organ chord drones at the core and percussive noise crinkles alongside. The vocal layers in “Fade Away Within” breathe even more peacefully, abetted in this case by a myriad of percussion sounds such as the shimmer of bells and the high-pitched pop of a wooden block being struck repeatedly. The singing style adopted by Peters and Roden seems so devotional, one visualizes two monks chanting in some monastery far removed from Western society. A similar approach to vocal delivery characterizes “Two or Three Fireflies,” though this time the material is sustained by the repeated punctuation of piano chords and assorted scrapes and bowings.

<i>Not A Leaf Remains As It Was</i> is about as fragile and time-transcending a recording as 12k has released, an album where every sound signifies, and is a testament to the resourcefulness and artistry of its creators. It’s meditative music, serene in spirit yet never less than engaging when such a constant flow of invention and activity presents itself. Though short by conventional CD standards at thirty-four minutes, the recording doesn’t feel incomplete as the four settings constitute a fully formed statement by the duo.

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