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CD Feature/ Chris Abrahams & Mike Cooper: "Oceanic Feeling-Like"

img  Tobias

Art is about the big mysteries of life and somehow, the ocean embodies all of them: Death, love, romance, destruction and creation – just to name a few. Maybe this is why maritime-motived music splits critics and audiences right in the middle: To some, a work like „Oceanic feeling-like“ will seem formulaic and obliquely romantic, a mere mantra of human incomprehension in the face of forces which can not be controlled or understood. To others, it is yet another valuable piece of a puzzle which we need to work on to make sense of it all: How can there ever be enough music like this if it helps us find the answers we need?

The latter feeling prevails on „Oceanic feeling-like“, because it cares nothing for cliches and can do without electronic trickery. A natural result of the creative combustion engine at its heart, combining two artists who have both, in their own right, defined unique spaces of electro-acoustic improvisation, this record eschews water-samples and flowing, floating, gurgling or sparkling sounds, concentrating on nothing but the evocative power of its musical structures.

It is therefore surprising that its tracks carry inviting titles like „Surfside No. 2“, „Board/Wax“ or „Waiting for Otis“, because this is so obviously not an „Ocean Swell“ album. It does not try to imitate the ocean, but to capture its moods of vastness, infinity, majesty and fear. It is not about recreating its movements and processes, but about facing them as a frail human being. And, finally, it regards the sea not just in its absolute dimensions, but mainly as a metaphor.

Anyone expecting a lush sonic tapestry will therefore be disappointed: Despite the depths of its textures, enriched by myriads of pearly glitches, crystalline crackles and rhythmic feedback, „Oceanic feeling-like“ is confounding, disturbing, confrontational and often primordially direct in its arrangements, a bleeding soundscape whose openness leaves the interpretational process completely up to its audience. Listened to with headphones, it is pristinely clear and transparent – but in the confinements of a dark and lonely room, it conjures up haunting and threateningly opaque fogfigures and the creaking of blood-stained wooden planks nonetheless.

Everything here bases on the spartanic immediacy of Abrahams' Piano and Cooper's Guitar. Despite effect treatments and the weaving of soft loopnets, the raw timbres of their instruments remain intact on almost all tracks here as a sceletised image of a duo playing together in the same room. On the quarter of an hour-long „Memory of Water“, Abrahams at first lights up the nightsky with nocturnal broken chord pulsations, shifting constantly, slowing down and evaporating into singular dissonant tones. In the ensuing middle sections, metallic strings are plucked, bowed and torn, creating ghoulish resonances and ghost harmonics. In the coda, the ambiance increasingly tightens, growing in claustrophobia, a wordless finale of choking intensity.

There are moments of more genteel harmony, but they are never without their emotionally confusing counterpoints. In the short sketch „Hechizo“, Cooper's pastoral postrock plainsong is thwarted by Abrahams' tender freetonalities and upper-register dabbers and the dreamy ambience of aforementioned „Surfside No. 2“ is slowly superseded by nervously overlapping whirrs and purrs, backwards loops and electronic splinters, before a consoling piano resolution heals the wounds.

All input flows into a controlled score, whose next direction can never fully predicted. As closely as the performers are listening and reacting to each other, they are also firing off rounds of electronic reprocessings and discreet rhythms, which force them to constantly adjust to new situations. Their exchange is a shining example of musical multitasking and a statement of idiosyncratic personality where others might have ended up with sonic fluff or free jazz banalities. Quite possibly, the exact details of how they managed to arrive there, will remain a big mystery. But that only reinforces the relevance of an album which proves that the ocean is far from becoming obsolete as a theme of an artistic quest for meaning.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Chris Abrahams
Homepage: Mike Cooper
Homepage: Room40 Records

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