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CD Feature/ Brian Parnham: "Mantle"

img  Tobias
Steve Roach is casual about other musicians admitting the influence he has had on their work: At the beginning of most careers, after all, there is reverence and didn’t he, too, start out with a breakfast of “vitamins and Klaus Schulze’s ‘Time Wind’” in the early days? Maybe the recognition of this natural cycle has led him to actively nurture his musical offspring instead of trying to fight them or accuse them of a lack of ideas. “Mantle” by Brian Parnham is one of two albums recently released on Roach’s TimeRoom Editions imprint and just like Nathan Youngblood’s “Asunder”, it has turned out more than mere epigonism in the end.

In the case of this album, the danger of that happening was even more immanent than with Youngblood’s release. “Asunder” was, after all, a work crafted by him alone, with Steve Roach merely taking over mastering duties at the concluding stages of the recording process. “Mantle”, meanwhile, sees Roach contribute a lot more freely, providing “atmospheres, drones and harmonic waves” on half of the twelve tracks collected here, as well as inserting “spatial implants” on all of them while assembling the compositions in the studio. In combination with the fact that the record was “commissioned by Steve”, it adds up to something very close to a collaboration from the outside perspective.

This impression is solidified in the first movements of “Mantle”. Even though “Skim the Surface” and “Meandering” begin with endless layers of harmonics stacked softly on top of each other, the gentle propulsion of billowing drones and dreamy melodies drifting underneath the rippled surface of a liquid film, the ensuing action carries plenty of echoes from the catalogue of the Ambient pioneer: The way in which various cycles are running freely out of phase, the depth of the arrangements, the typical harmonic obliqueness caused by non-rational alignment of associatively linked motives and the organic motion of musical themes, which awards them the quality of movements of nature inside an imaginary trajectory all point to a field which Roach has ploughed incessantly for over thirty years now.

The realisation of Parnham’s own contribution and unique perspective comes gradually. “Mantle” differes from Roach’s zones already in the fact that it is a continous composition made up of various, interrelated episodes, which mark different stages of development. At the heart of the album’s concept lies the naked encounter with landscape, in this case with the slot canyons of Utah. Titles like “Rising Temperatures” or “Up for Air” are indications of the stark climatical extremities of these vast planes, of their heat and flickering brightness. Parnham does not care for a documentary description of these sites. Instead, he paints a mythical picture and confronts the listener with an alegorical vision of his encounters.

“Mantle” is constructed like a sonic story, leading its audience into the “Scorpion Den”, the “Minotaur’s Lair” and to the “Altar of the Underworld”. It is a psychological reflection of the images welling up inside the composer, a stream of metaphors sucked in through blistered lips to compensate for the loss of orientation and body fluids. Under these circumstances, all details are drastically enhanced by our sensory system, awarding a thematic character to the myriads of tiny particles buzzing in the mix, to metallic echoes and wooden brush strokes.

Similarly, harmonic progression gradually dissolves into insular slowmotion-erruptions and deep currents of pulsation. As the atoms around dance like crazy, life is retreating into a mould of drowzy observation – beyond this border, there is nothing but madness.

This implies that there is a fundamental difference between Parnham’s aesthetics and Roach’s philosophy. While the latter moulds ambiances for the listener to dwell in, the former sees music as the language ideally suited for a posteriori accounts of these trips. While Roach offers a space for new experiences, Parnham expresses what these experiences mean on a personal level. Of course, the influence of the man who commissioned “Mantle” can hardly be overheard. But it has manifested itself in a symbiotic relationship, which offers plently of potential for new directions.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Brian Parnham
Homepage: Timeroom Editions

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