Review of Solo Andata [12k1056]

Tokafi (.COM)

Shamans for the 21st century: The beginning of a spiritual journey.

Even though he has become something of an anachronism, the shaman as a spiritual guide for society hasn’t lost his relevance. In fact, as the world reveals its complexity, inner turbulence and inherently chaotic nature, the desire to see beyond the surface has, if anything, only increased. On the strength of their first three releases, it seems as though Australian duo Solo Andata are about to take on that role for the experimental Sound Art community: Feeding from Micro-Noise, Dark Ambient and Neoclassical and making use of electronically processed drones, acoustic instruments and field recordings, their music amalgamates these influences into astoundingly coherent hallucinatory visions. Composed both of nervous scrapings and pastoral impressions, lyrical cello lines as well as solitary piano tones, these are indeed, as the title of their most recent release indicates, „rituals“ whose immediately audible emanations represent mere tools designed at arriving at an inner truth. Overwhelmed by its physical presence and immersive qualities, one of their fans suggested listening to them „in coal black darkness“ – an indeed perfectly suitable environment for a music which appears to draw from witchcraft but speaks with the beguiling voice of a siren.

Metaphysical metaphors aside, the story of how Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin switched from producing instrumental Hip-Hop to sinister Ambient over night and got to be published by one of the leading labels of the genre still has a fairytale-like ring to it. And with the same absolute certainty that rules one’s dreams, they have pursued this new course without ever looking back – once the bridges had been burnt, there was really only „one path“ left. It should seem fitting in this regard that one could, in formal terms, still draw a distinction between who composes what on their records. And yet the duo, who have lived on different sides of the planet ever since Fiocco moved to Europe and thus effectively not composed in the same room together for years, have repeatedly emphasised that even on a long-form composition such as „Incantare“, a solo-work written by Ikin for Ritual on paper, the presence of the other invariably makes itself felt.

One could therefore claim, with some justification, that spatial separation has in fact served to intensify rather than rupture the telepathic interaction between the protagonists and actually made their combined efforts even more personal. Thanks to its undeniable grace, flow and beauty, Solo Andata’s Fyris Swan debut on Hefty still fit in nicely with the the emerging genre of Folk-centered Ambient at the time, creating a hazy oasis between waking and fantasising. Since then, however, their work has focused far less obviously on soundscaping and instead arrived at a fluid continuum, in which themes drift like leaves on the surface of a crystal sea and notions of movement and progression are discarded in favour of a perpetual re-arranging of materials. The two monumental cuts around the ten-minute-mark standing at the outer and inner gate of their self-titled 2009-album like mythical sphinxes acting as gatekeepers to the mystery enshrined within, are perfect examples for this technique, their precisely planned variations on the same motives creating the kind of alternative reality which allows one to partake in the thoughts and associations of an artist as vividly as though they were one’s own.

On both these tracks, too, the conventions of the music industry are wilfully bypassed to do full justice to the concrete needs of the work: Not only are „Ablation“ and „Woods Flesh Bone“ again, strictly speaking, solo-efforts by Paul Fiocco which unintentionally made for a perfect fit with their collaborative endeavours. But they also constitute different versions of tracks originally published on his Torsions and Drifts CD-R on Meupe. This tendency towards wholeness, of individual parts linking up to create cohesive entities and of seemingly separate works relating to each other through quotes, colours, references and hidden messages, is not just apparent on each individual album, but throughout their entire discography: Sound-wise, the inclusion of instruments like the piano, cello and guitar spans an arch from their earliest pieces to their current work and the cicada-sample used on „Wood Flesh Bone“ has intriguingly carried over to aforementioned „Incantare“ on Ritual, thereby subtly connecting the two by a fine thread. As such, each Solo Andata album appears to contribute to a larger whole, whence it draws inspiration and energy and into which it feeds fresh ideas: The simultaneity of continuity and change, of creation and distruction, of tradition and progress acts as just one constant and extremely rewarding Leitmotif here.

Another recurrent theme are the arresting visual qualities of their music. These are perhaps most apparent on Solo Andata and not just because Taylor Deupree’s images in the booklet offer photographic interpretations of each of the eight pieces. With unerring precision, the music establishes a fusion between field recordings of water, a buzzing wealth of tiny clicks as well as opaque drones and synth-lines. The way Fiocco and Ikin stay clear of linear narratives, opting instead for a continuous refinement and detailing, reminds one of the art of painting. The resulting compositions, whose motives seem to change colour thanks to variations in their shadings, further support this impression by effectively arresting time. One of the tracks here goes by the name of „Hydraulic Fluctuations“ and the terminology makes for an apt analogy to this technique: Just like the play of waves on a liquid substance will merely alter the patterns on its surface while its general outlines are resting, these pieces are in constant flux without ever going somewhere.

In direct contrast, Ritual offers a far greater sense of transport. The impression is foremost down to the fact that the duo have opted for approaching the album with the vinyl-format already in mind, with each side delineating a unique mood, world and journey of its own. Ambiances are still unfolding with the same trance-inducing slowness, but they are seamlessly segueing in- and out of each other, creating fluid transitions and the sensation of being carried from one mysterious place to another. At the same time, mostly thanks to a far more visceral palette, the tactile facets of the Solo-Andata-sound have been notably enhanced and as revolting as the concept may sound at first, Fiocco and Ikin’s idea of using „the vibration of bone-cancer-infected human cells“ to create an antsy tension and the aural equivalent of an itch, has been highly effective in practise. On the B-side, meanwhile, various tracks have been molded into a single epic journey, taking listeners through passages of warmly pulsating bass and breezy meditative bliss, which recasts the scary shadows of the opening pieces as nothing but a bad dream.

In these realms, there is no longer a distinction between layers of pitched and unpitched material, as they constantly inform, influence and inspire each other: Dreamy melodies, all but weightless and rich in overtones, feel as though they were being hummed by exotic birds in a tropical rain forest. Water streaming through a cataract is sparking quirky motives like a miniature-version of the Moldau. And mysterious field recordings, or even microscopic extracts thereof, can take on compositional functions: On several occasions, at first random or intermittent signals are gradually interlocking into quasi-rhythmical grooves, without ever loosing their textural aspects. In some cases, even the domain of theme-building is affected: One of the most intense instants of aforementioned „Incantare“ occurs in its middle section when, against a deep and unreal pulse as well as a sustained atmosphere, what seem to be thin, freely suspended sheets of metal, are irregularly struck with a mallet, creating shimmering, gong-like chains of overlapping bell-tones. Rather than disturbing or counterpointing the „musical“ portion of the work, they seamlessly blend in, creating the most delicate and delightful melodies imaginable.

Some questions can not yet be answered, of course: In the blackened corridors and hallways of Solo Andata and Ritual, a last glimmer of doubt about the impenetrable secrets embedded into the seeming safety of the world around us always remains. It takes a shaman to cast a light through this darkness – for Fiocco and Ikin, their spiritual journey has only just begun.

By Tobias Fischer

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