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LP Feature/ Esther Venrooy: "The Spiral Staircase"

img  Tobias
Success is subject to the laws of relativity. Sometimes, however, the smale scale of the sound art scene is slightly saddening: Are there really only 300 people out there with an interest in buying this album? Esther Venrooy has turned into one of the leading Dutch protagonists of experimental music and into an active and versatile figurehead of its counterpart in Belgium – where she now lives and co-runs the Odradek special-events organisation, while heading the board of well-respected label and cross-border beyond-genres concert platform (k-raa-k)3. And yet her releases stil seem to be tied to the domain of the initiated few, to small arts galleries and specialised magazines published by obscure fans in small print runs.

Wide-spread recognition has indeed, at least for the moment, sprung from a different corner than the CD market. Despite steadily amassing a discography for several years, Venrooy has built her reputation mainly by performing live and as a sculptor of sound installations – a status further confirmed in 2008 by engagements for, among others, the Diapason Gallery in New York. As “The Spiral Staircase” proves, this dual interest has been benefitial to both aspects of her work, her records encapsulating the listener in a dense, intangible cage of shifting sound conglomerates, recreating the sensation of a dedicated zone at home.

There is, to put it differently, a strong physical aspect to “The Spiral Staircase”, a creepy tension, a spell-binding plasticity, an ephemeral spatiality. Majestic bass waves seem to spill over from the speakers into the far corners of your room, while ringing, high-pitched frequencies rise like incense into the wheeling night. Venrooy shapes her atmospheres with great clarity and simple brushstrokes, while allowing her musical elements to expand and evolve on their own accord. The result is a music of great outward calm and a starkly contrasting inner complexity, filled with regally overlapping peaks and troughs, creating constantly changing patterns.

Essentially, then, this is a Drone album, but one which stretches the volubility of the genre to its outer limits. Venrooy doesn’t just create ominously opaque tonal clouds, but displays a noteable penchant for sounds with a personality: Breathing ghost notes, glassy expanses of harmonics, sonorous bass steps, discreetly rasping cuckoo clock machineries, pointilistic digital dots and sensually detuned bell chimes. Presented against a backdrop of sustained ambiance, their characters are twisted into a surreal mirrorimage, which allows for close, but emotionally affected observations.

Even more decidingly, the album never dwells in one space for very long. Cut like a burning path along transitory scenes of halucinatory intensity, “The Spiral Staircase” is marked by quick changeovers from one musical room to the next. These seagues can manifest themselves either through the gradual intrusion of a new element, which subsequently takes over or thanks to more abrupt juxtapositions. In any case, the general effect is one of seemless movement and fluent motions, a veritable audio trip which conveys a notion of freedom and epic width, which sweeps the listener along and spits him out cleansed, confounded and curiously content at the end.

This is not an observation that applies to Esther Venrooy, however, who exercises and maintains complete control throughout, treating her material in a very direct and yet unconventional way, keeping her moods tight but never shying away from ever so slight impurities, wobbles, dynamic distortions and dramatic swells. It is a music which requires a high degree of concentration on the part of its audience, but rewards it with an equally impressive degree of emotionality. Success is indeed relative: Even if only 300 people were to buy this album, they might well regard it as a treasure.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Esther Venrooy
Homepage: entracte Records

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