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David Tagg: Pentecost; The Garden: In Sea-Land; VCV & Shinobu Nemoto: Jovian Clouds

img  Tobias Fischer

New York based David Tagg, it seems, can be inspired by almost everything, just not everyday life. Imagination and naiveté are the passwords into his private sanctum, an endless rain forest overgrown with thick memory leaves and nostalgic brushwood grown on melancholia for fertiliser. If there's a path, it is „lingering“. If a guitar should sound, it is „wind blown“. And if, as on his latest solo full-length, he should claim that „I am the wolf“, he may not be speaking metaphorically. Confronted with the popular interview question of which historical person he'd like to meet, Tagg would most likely opt for Sigmund Freud: Between 2008 and 2010 and in conjunction with his congenial creative partner Brian Grainger, he recorded the first nineteen volumes of a total of twenty six „musical sleeping pills“ aimed at „maximum aural sedation“, followed up by a tape of „dream compost“ earlier this year. While some supposedly „serious“ artists are „building“ and „pushing“ their career, Tagg is happy to sleep his way through it.

Which is not to say that he were drifting around aimlessly. A mere year after founding his first imprint Second Sun Recordings with Grainger, Tagg already added a second one, Install, to his portfolio. Originally conceptualised as a side-project, it would quickly outgrow and overtake its former parent in terms of scope and ambition. Everything about Install is a reflection of Tagg's aesthetics as both a visual- and sound artist: Packaging is elegant and personal, but it is also functional and complementary to the music, rather than competing with it for attention. The artist roster has been open to both familiar and hand-picked new names. And in terms of stylistic outreach, the platform has somehow managed to restrict itself to the realms of drones, field recordings and artful ambient without limiting or overly narrowing down its perspective. Relying foremost on mouth to mouth propaganda and recommendations, Install has grown almost entirely without big promotion- or social media campaigns - it is a label which isn't throwing itself at you, but which you'll need to find, discover and spend some time with.

Despite these markers of excellence, is exceedingly hard to pinpoint what makes Tagg's work stand out, because it is exceedingly hard to describe what, precisely, differentiates a great drone from a merely decent or mediocre one. In his solo work, such as on 2010's Pentecost, the ingredients are very much typical of the genre in general: Skilfully sculpted hiss, multiple layers of glistening harmonics, opaque resonance and delicate ambiances gently pierced by looped string melodies. And yet, the result is sure to make even the most unromantic and cold-hearted go silent within the first few bars with sounds so quiet you'll need to hold your breath for a few minutes so as not to miss a single note - on „Pentacost 3“, the listener seems to be placed on top of a mountain at night, with the music coming from the village at its foot like a muted murmur. Patience, defined here as the ability of stretching the development of a piece out and wait for just the right moment to add a new element or introduce an outwardly insignificant change to the material, is of utmost importance. But even more so is the notion of composing textures rather than linear narratives, of the music expanding into the depth rather than just following a linear time line.

This may be even more true of his collaborative- than his solo work, since the inclusion of additional players doesn't so much translate to eccentric combinations, but to even more dense and associative sonic spaces. In his duo The Garden with Hakobune's Takahiro Yorifuji (Hakobune), the music at first doesn't sound all that unsimilar to the refined stillness of Pentecost: Composed of golden streaks of luminescent guitar tones, slowed-down melodic fragments and fields of yearning harmonies, they convey the impression of listening to all but decayed tapes and looking at yellowed photographs on a spiderweb- and dust-riddled attic. At the same time, the overall sound on the project's debut In Sea-Land, is richer, almost as if one had descended Pentecost's mountain top again and were now standing directly in the eye of the sound, taking in every nuance and detail – a broken piano line here, a fragile flute breath there – and bathing in its sentimental warmth. On Jovian Clouds, meanwhile, a threesome between Tagg, Grainger (under their VCV moniker) and Japanese drone mystic Shinobu Nemoto, the journey is headed towards the heart of the solar system, with the tracks oscillating between gaping black holes and passages of blissful drift. The album title is indicative of the procedures at work here: As though glancing down on a landscape from a space vessel through sheets of clouds and banks of fog, the music never reveals its entire content at the same time, intermittently obscuring and opening up the listener's sight.

Moderately, rather than epically lengthed, these works feel like paintings rather than music. It is almost as though Tagg were using the first bars of a piece to frame his sonic canvas and define its limits. The entire action then takes place within this frame, until either the canvas has been filled or the combinatorial potential of the thematic material has been exhausted. In some cases, even, the painting already seems to be finished from the start, with the task of the performers merely lying in slowly pulling away the curtain that's been covering it, to reveal the beauty hidden underneath. On Jovian „Cloud Five“, a battered and beautifully detuned piano revolves around two freely spaced-out notes in the lower register, while a guitar is playing woefully distorted melodies on top. The dance continues for a full seven minutes, the guitar tones occasionally scraping the borders of distortion or ascending into anthemic heights, but always cooling down and regaining their composure again. And despite the action seemingly steering towards a climax or a relieving outburst, there is never any real chance of it reaching a definitive conclusion.

This, it seems, is what awards them their particular quality. All things must come to an end in everyday life. But in Tagg's rain forest of imagination, the most beautiful dream really can last forever.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: David Tagg
Homepage: Brian Grainger
Homepage: Shinobu Nemoto
Homepage: Hakobune
Homepage: Install Recordings

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