Album cover for Flare by Erik K. Skodvin

Erik K. Skodvin: Flare (Sonic Pieces, 2010)
£4.20 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £6.99 from [Boomkat]

Norwegian musician, graphic designer and all-round creative force Erik K. Skodvin (one half of experimentalists Deaf Center) had until last year only released solo material under a pseudonym, Svarte Greiner.

In Flare, his latest work, Skodvin has pulled away from the rich, noise-tinged soundscapes of his previous output. In doing so, he has decided to give his own name to the stripped back, almost pastoral, filmic vignettes the album contains.

Across the ten pieces, Skodvin conjures – with a limited sound palette of piano, guitar and violin – a world of simple beauty suffused with tragedy, suspense.

Brooding second track “Matiné” exemplifies this, building its repeated refrain over five minutes before releasing it into silence. “Pitch Dark” and “Graves” add a plaintive female voice to atonal piano notes and sudden strikes against the acoustic guitar’s body. The effect is unsettling.

The album deftly treads the fine line between instrumental minimalism and a kind of dystopian folk, often recalling (such as on “Neither Dust”) the solo work of Scott Tuma and the experimental rural-rock of Montreal bands like Esmerine and Sackville.

The two closing pieces capture the album’s troubled beauty perhaps best. On “Vanished” a sustained piano note ebbs and flows beneath a tentative, half remembered melody that gradually vanishes before your ears.

“Caught In Flickering Lights” pairs a gently percussive brush of a guitar – like a moth repeatedly hitting a lantern – with a mournful violin and portentous rolling piano notes.

All of the album’s sorrow (and some of your own) is played out here so that when the album finishes, the silence seems quieter than usual. Listen for yourself, below.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews releases from the eMusic catalogue.

Album cover for Grower by Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek

Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek: Grower (Sonic Pieces, 2011)
£0.84 from [eMusic] (requires membership) – £2.50 from [Boomkat]

Grower is not the first collaboration between Dutch sound artist Rutger Zuyderveldt – a.k.a. Machinefabriek – and British-born, Netherlands-based clarinettist Gareth Davis. The two created two 3-inch CD-R releases in 2009 – Soundlines and Ghost Lanes – before their first long-player release, last year’s Drape (Home Normal).

It is the Ghost Lanes sessions that have defined their partnership to date, as they also spawned the recordings for both Drape – which sounds like a scratchy, parched meditation on hunger and thirst – and the more cavernous atmosphere of Grower (released as a beautifully packaged CD by Sonic Pieces).

“Part 1” feels almost serpentine in character, with Davis’ bass clarinet motifs charming the reptile from its lair, the ebbs and flows of Zuyderveldt’s seductive drones suggesting its undulating motion as the creature slowly and ominously feels its way into and around your imagination. That it feels a little slight is in part a testament to the lightness of the musicians’ touch.

“Part 2”, meanwhile, ploughs a deeper furrow. Davis coaxes from his instrument a more dynamic range of timbres – rasps, breaths, clicks – across a more atonal palette of notes while Zuyderveldt gradually tightens the screws, intensifying the atmosphere by degress across its 17 minutes. It is simultaneously freer and more coiled than “Part 1” and is the stronger of the two pieces.

Like Drape before it, Grower showcases the balance of intelligence and intuition, of knowing and sensing, required for electronic/acoustic improvisation to work. It may not break new ground, but it adds a richness and a little mystery to territory you thought you already knew.

To continue to tread this rewarding path, I recommend exploring the copious solo work of Machinefabriek (start with 2008’s excellent Dauw), German kindred spirit Jan Jelinek (a.k.a. Farben) and much of the output of Rune Grammafon (Arve Henriksen, Supersilent).

Sonic Pieces has kindly put Grower onto Soundcloud, so you can explore for yourself:

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews releases from the eMusic catalogue.