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Gareth Hardwick: Of The Sea And Shore

img  Tobias Fischer

While many experimental artists tend to shy away from intimacy, Gareth Hardwick  has never seen the sense in hiding his emotions. His work, prolific without being excessive and almost invariably published on his own Low Point imprint, at times seems like the aural equivalent of a diary, documenting anything from a sweet „Sunday Afternoon“ to an inspiring visit to London and „the danger of scenic walks“. The cliched presumption of instrumental music being incapable of dealing with private issues in a specific way was effectively disproved by suggestive soundscapes  which burned with joy, pain, elation and desire – even if they hardly ever rose above a whisper. Of the Sea and Shore is certainly no exception in an oeuvre painted with a soft brush and an open heart: For his first true full-length in four years, Hardwick  has again turned to personal matters, using them as a point of departure for exploring his fascination with the kind of quiet coastal environments depicted on the album's accompanying photography of sadly stranded ships.

Even though the latter, in combination with Hardwick's announcement, as expressed in the press release, of having „drawn upon the cyclical nature of the tides and the forces of nature that regulate the oceans“ might indicate a conceptual angle of sorts, Of the Sea and Shore has turned out anything but a purely analytical or site-specific work. Field recordings of birds make a singular appearance early on in the first of two expansive tracks around the eighteen-minute mark, but from then on, the music builds on the force of musical imagination and imaginative mood-sculpting alone. In fact, in more than one way, the record is a quite natural extension and symbiosis of ideas pioneered on previous releases, finding a middle ground between some of his shorter and more immediate early pieces on the one hand and immersive epics such as aforementioned „Sunday Afternoon“ on the other. Warm and deep textures still constitute the main body of the material here, but they are organically contrasted by more outspokenly melodic passages and figurative cymbal rushes, resulting in an equally atmospheric and expressive vocabulary.

As subtle as this development may be on an organisational level, it is certainly strong enough from a perceptional point of view to free the album from qualifying as pure drone-music. Today, Hardwick's creations could either be defined as pastoral sound-poems or alternately as fragile symphonic fantasies binding various lyrical ideas together on the strength of discrete programmatics and a condensed technical approach. In this particular case, coherency is foremost achieved through an almost obsessive focus on no more than a handful of intervals or even, at times, complete harmonic stasis. The opening segment, usually the moment where other composers would busily try to grab the audience's attention through shock tactics, is a particularly striking example for this approach. Built on a sweet tremolo effect on the guitar, it essentially consists of mere octavisation – the tone „e“ repeated at different pitches – lending a sense of closure and an air of calm and tranquility to the proceedings. The passage then gradually segues seamlessly into an even more serene ambient section, in which, through the gentle friction between tightly interlaced sheets of sound, a corresponding „a“ is suggested in the overtones – thus fusing into a both suspensefully open and sensitively resolved dyad.

On a theoretical level, one could claim that nothing were happening here. And yet, this kind of physical minimalism, the tendency of reducing music to its essentials, represents a completely convincing Leitmotif for the album's 36 minutes, which eschew both easily whistlable tunes and cool abstractions in favour of the most powerful fundamental tonal relationships. The reason why this works is that the stark reductionism in terms of musical materials is easily offset by Hardwick's talent at subtely working with filters and modular arrangements to create a palpable and meditative sense of motion. Both pieces comprise of various differentiated movements, each with a distinct character and ambiance of its own, which are either directly faded in and out or separated by short stretches of silence. After weightlessly floating along on the strength of a drone for close to thirteen minutes, for example, Hardwick infuses „Part 1“ with gentle pulsations, before concluding the piece with a two minute short coda of dreamy hiss and icy chime-crystals, abruptly aborted by what sounds like the stop button on his portable recording device. „Part 2“ follows a similar pattern, albeit passing through notably more stages, and coming to a close in the mysterious metallics of his oceanic cymbals. The painterly quality of these scenes is mirrored by a remarkable widening of the palette: Next to the already colourful set of instruments mentioned previously, the album features harmonium, radio and dictaphone to intense effect.

It is an orchestration perfectly suited to expressing the sense of loneliness, majesty, yearning, consolation, isolation from society and harmony with nature Hardwick is after and he uses it with great care: Where others would have chosen to merge all of these timbres, Hardwick has left each single one of them intact. One can always hear exactly what he is playing, lending a feeling of transparency and clarity to the arrangements. It is a move pointing at a high degree of integrity on the part of the composer: Hardwick doesn't want to stun or overwhelm his listeners, he wants to communicate with them at eye level. A cinematic, personal and involving journey, Of the Sea and Shore certainly makes a strong case for not hiding one's emotions as an artist.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Gareth Hardwick
Homepage: Low Point Recordings

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