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CD Feature/ Josh Russell: "For LP"

img  Tobias

This is a thought-provoking record and there are hundreds of possible ways to start a review, depending on your perspective, your preferences and whether or not you’ve had your first cup of coffee already: Are you going to comment on its dialogue with silence, the way it occasionaly scrapes on the surface of the void, igniting sparks from its fabric and then dropping back into the immediately audable again? Will you expand on the fact that this is a unique transposition of microtonal techniques to other areas of experimental music, to more emotional structures and a place where the sounds of our direct environment sublimate into art? Or should you draw attention to its inspiration, the three personalities which these tracks and the album’s title refer to and which shape the architecture of the music, asking for questions to answers which will never be given? Okay, I thought it over - why not do it all (and let me get you that cup of coffee!).

A dialogue with silence
I think it’s safe to say that if Josh Russell were planning on becoming a celebrity fast, he would now be in a different line of work. And yet, even considering the scene (or simply: environment) he has been operating in for about five years now, he has kept everything surrounding his musical activities on an extremely “cool” level: He does not maintain one of those trendy MySpace accounts, he in fact doesn’t even have a homepage of his own, instead presenting himself with nothing but an out-of-focus photograph and an extremely concise (or to speak more bluntly: short) text on a single subpage on the site of Bremssrahlung Records, which he founded at the beginning of the millenium. Still, one could argue that these few lines and his discography (which spans a mere three full-lenghts, but innumerable sampler-contributions) reveal all that needs to be told. “His work lies in the gully between academic electro-acoustic and ambient. Inspired by the soft incidental noises that one normally filters out he distills these sounds down and composes with them.” And that is where the miracle begins.

The reality behind the music
For it is not only the fact that Russell has an incredible way with sounds, an “eye” for their potential. He actually lifts them from their raw state of origin into meaningful events in their own right: On “For Ernst Ruska”, he stretches clusters of bright noise, until the individual threads become visible, then he seperates them from each other and slowly pulls them by their end over the brightly illuminated, but completely empty canvas. And then, while these lonely streaks pass you by, you discover that they constitute something organic and that their presence uncovers an underlying reality , which some will call silence, others the “void” – whatever you call it, it is not empty and defies full description. “For Oberlin Smith” makes this abundantly clear, a twenty-five minute composition broken down into several overlapping scenes. Here, Russell turns into a musical philosopher, stripping ambient pieces off their easily recognisable elements and putting their nakes framework on display. With horror movies, this peeling-to-the-bone would seem frightening, here it results in deeply consoling and indescribably comforting moments.

Personal inspiration
So who are the inspirators for the record? Surprisingly, they’re not musicians: Smith narrowly failed to invent the first recording device, Ruska was part of the Nobel-prize winning team which invented the scanning tunneling microscope.”Lobsang Tenphen”, meanwhile, is a Tibetan dissident who disappeared from sight after being picked up by the Chinese authorities. The piece dedicated to him closes the album and allows for direct interpretation, a lightbulb or a glass being gently struck for minutes, its resonating hum counting the seconds full of hope and fear. The other works make it harder on the listener to come to easy solutions. Maybe there are none. Whatever their exact intention, however, they allow a glimpse at Josh Russell’s personality, something ample words or an extensive CV couldn’t tell, just like it’s mostly the little details that one comes to love with a person.

“For LP” is quiet in a spectacular way. Russell captures a certain essence, something between the airwaves, and turns it into a universal message. So universal in fact, that it has been all but sold out, with only a few copies of this limited release hiding at some select mailorders. What has without contributed to this is the fact that his sonic dissections are cool and precise, yet personal and emotive. Which means that you can think about its consequences and implications, use it as food for thought and start debating clubs. But you can just as much out your feet up, close your ears and enjoy that cup of coffee.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Josh Russell
Homepage: Con-V Records
Homepage: Bremsstrahlung Recordings

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