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CD Feature/ Olivia Block: "Heave to"

img  Tobias

Sound is a strange thing. I am thoroughly convinced that its importance for human existence is being massively underrated when compared to visual stimuli. At the same time it is so ephemeral that it appears to be immensely hard to capture and often confused for an abstraction. The work of Olivia Block is living testimony to the awareness of this dilemma and harbinger of a possible solution. There is a third way, it seems to say, between the dichotomy of pure field recordings and organised composition – and it could well lead to a differenciated and more nuanced perception of “music” as a “real” and “living” phenomenon.

Of course, a work like “Heave to” does not come falling from the sky just like that. Block is either a slow worker or an extremely precise and detail-obsessed one and there were seven years in between opening her first album-trilogy and its completion with the meticulous, intense, craggedly contrasted yet softly outlined and masterfully executed “Change Ringing” on Jason Kahn’s cut records. The fact that “Mobius Fuse” was selected into a ist of the best albums of the 1990s by a major internet music source hasn’t meant she has by now attained “Bohemian Rapsody” status, but did prove that her appeal extends well beyond the position of a critic’s darling and “serious” publications. “Heave to” comes only a year after its predecessor and that is a welcome surprise for all who expected Block to leave the world waiting during an extended period of concentrating on her installations and exhibition spaces. As could be expected with a record which on the one hand uses music composed over a similar period as “Change Ringing” and on the other heralds the advent of a new phase in the composer’s oeuvre, this effort is characterised both by a recognisable handwriting and traces of something new only just starting to expand, grow and blossom. Again, Block positions herself in a space of her own, with delicately treated organic sounds forming the backbone to heavily reworked performances of her chamber music ensemble and an effective dose of electronica. The process of assembling these into an entity is one of carefully beveling the edges and polishing the surface, until the different elements do not collide, but collude. Field recordings of the sea, the wind and just plain open spaces, as well as the odd vinly crackling work as fertile ground for scratchings, electric tweeting and reversed, bent and distorted group performances. The latter are more apparent in the second part of “Heave to”, which spirals irreversibly into vertiginous heights, while the opening episode reverts to warm, but short drone stabs on a translucently illuminated canvas.

Again, this is a short album, its 35 minutes only slightly exceeding the conciseness of “Change”. But within this small space, Block manages to reconsile the acoustic with the optical in a unique way. Her pieces are constructed like paintings and even though their original field recording character has been lost, the addition of a certain degree of artificiality makes them seem even more alive and real. Even though hardly anything here has distinct form, there is not a single abstraction to be found. It is our mind, not just our eyes or ears, which constructs the world - and the sounds of “Heave to” make us part of that process.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Olivia Block
Homepage: Sedimental Records

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