Review of Between You And The Shapes You Take [12k1078]

Textura (CA)

One of the most interesting things about Between You And The Shapes You Take, the second collaborative venture by Richmond-based Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg, is the way its creators use electronic techniques and processing to produce a form of organic electroacoustic music akin to pastoral folk. In other words, the music at times seems to capture the circuitous route the duo follows to move from an experimental starting point in an attempt to reach a musical realm free of signifiers and earmarked by purity. It’s telling, then, that the first sound that appears on the album is the wordless hum of Berg’s voice, given that the human voice is one of the purest sounds that exists. If anything, the natural qualities of “From Here” only deepen as the track develops, with rustic guitars and violin strengthening its meditative, outdoorsy aura, plus there’s even a percussive treatment that evokes the image of a horse galloping along a dusty trail (a similarly associative moment occurs during “Recap (With Violin)” when an instrument sound suggests the distant wail of a train whistle).

Berg’s clarinet and vocal contributions certainly account for some of the music’s natural warmth, but so too does the appearance of violin playing on two pieces by one-time Hugo Largo member Hahn Rowe. Vitiello can be credited with providing much of the material’s textural richness in the acoustic and baritone guitar, modular synthesizer, and processing he contributes to the project. Adding to the material’s pastoral folk character, the flutter of wooden flutes also surfaces on the album along with a range of percussive touches. An occasional trace of psych-folk also seeps into the material, such as when processing treatments multiply the guitar’s textural presence during “Five (Was Five).” Though recorded in-studio, much of Between You And The Shapes You Take sounds as if it could have been recorded in the countryside on a summer’s day next to a sleepy pond, with Berg, seated on the grass, playing her clarinet alongside Vitiello on guitar and a tape recorder nearby.

If an organic feel pervades the material, it’s attributable, at least in part, to the creative processes deployed by Vitiello and Berg. Just as they did on 2009’s The Gorilla Variations, the two produced the album’s ten tracks by recording improvisations and then shaping the material into final form via editing. In that regard, a comment of Vitiello’s says much about their approach: “Things tend to go best when Molly and I don’t speak beforehand or plan anything for the recording beyond a time to meet and to begin.” There’s a consequent air of ease and comfort about the fifty-four-minute set that bolsters its appeal, a relaxed, almost lackadaisical quality that one would be wrong to mistake for directionless meander (how fitting it is that one of the tracks is titled “Easy Travel”). Clearly, Vitiello and Berg know where they’re going; they just like to make the journey seem as spontaneous and natural as possible.

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