1. Ben Owen - Birds and Water, 1

    It was a surprise, although a pleasant one no doubt, to get some tapes from Notice Recordings a week or so ago. The Ben Owen one “Birds and Water, 1” being the most immediately exciting. I’ve made my way through a few times now and have to say, it’s rather a lovely little thing. (it has actually refused to leave my cassette deck, so the others are waiting patiently)

    Side A struck me as both patient and insistent, at times loud and full, at other times quiet and full. There’s a fuzzines to the whole side, like every part of this is covered in a film, sometimes heavier sometimes lighter. That fuzziness lends a nice cohesion across the 45 or so minutes. Not to say it feels fractured though, even with some pretty drastic shifts in tone and volume. All 45 minutes feel very deliberate, each shift placed just so, each section ending just when, etc.

    It’s hard to put a finger on just why exactly I like this so much. But I do like it so much. In some ways there’s a pleasing simplicity to the proceedings. While there is assuredly a lot happening, soft crunch and hum and whine in various forms throughout, I don’t get the sense of an impetus beyond a sheer enjoyment in making these sounds all sit together in such a beautiful way. It’s the quiet stretches and more precisely the shifts into them that are my favorite. The volume drops and slowly out of near silence more and more detail emerges each time, but muted. At a normal volume it’s still audible, but it takes attention to realize how rich it is, how much is still happening. There’s a Pisaro-esqueness to this, which is I guess a predictable comparison from me. But still, a complexity hiding behind an apparent simplicity that lends itself to both a simple enjoyment, something I don’t often find in this world of music, and rewards for more close listening.

    Side B is a different beast. On a first listen I found it rough going, especially after the previous side. Not bad, just flat, insistent, steady. Pleasing in a way, but less effective. It turns out the trick is to play it loudly. In some ways it ended up feeling as varied as the first side after a couple more listens, but the variations are subtle, shifting things. From a base of sound that lasts the 45 minutes you start to hear these warbles and shifts, chiming tones, occasionaly these queasy little bends, and small but at louder volumes incredibly affecting gaps in one channel or the other. And the final moment, that ringing, yawning silence left over and the click of my cassette deck felt like it brought the tape full circle. Normal sounds feeling muted much like the quieter sections of Side A.

    It’s a very patient and rewarding 90 minutes. Testament to Owen’s skill at making sure each shift, each warble, each change demonstrate its necessity. I’m very fond of it.

    Oh, also, the artwork (see above) is really lovely.

     
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