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Taylor Deupree: Shoals; Snow (Dusk, Dawn)

img  Tobias Fischer
article image

Wanting good things to last forever is a part of human nature. Having to cope with the fact that they won't is part of everyday life: Decay, fleetingness, death, evanescence and loss surround us even as we tread on beds of beauty. It is up to the arts, as the invisible link between reality and the fantastical, to bridge the divide. Taylor Deupree's  oeuvre, discounting early exercises in Minimal-Techno such as 1998-full-length Comma, has accordingly often been about the way our lives are ruled by memories and the unique ability of nature to heal the wounds inflicted upon them. In the consoling whiteness of his acoustic winterscapes, the cool clarity of his sonic hillsides or even within the tiny world delineated by the image of a leaf embedded into the surface of a frozen lake, bitterness is replaced by acceptance and the pain of „never again“ subsides into hope. It wasn't merely his continually refined compositional technique which lent these aural images their entirely uncliched charm, but above all personal experience: Having fled the noise and turbulences of the big city, Deupree  found a spiritual home in the rural town of Pound Ridge, his house bordering the very pastoral spaces his musical inventions are taking place in.

Accompanying this intimate internalisation of his surrounding environment has been a gradual discarding of his formerly abstract sound sources - the entire 24-minute title track to Deupree's favourite solo-album Still was famously built on a single, under a second-short micro-sample – in favour of a Folk-bent palette of acoustic instruments. A lot of these can still clearly be discerned on Snow (Dusk, Dawn), at 63 copies the most limited release on his 12k-imprint ever. For sixteen time-suspending minutes, glistening gong-, glockenspiel- and bell-sounds appear in the form of stretched-out timbral drones, metallic resonance as well as a three-note descending melodic pattern repeated (and slowly transformed) all but throughout the entire piece. Bathed in a luxurious steam bath of pine-scented hiss and subtly clicking and scratching particles, the music is at once peaceful and constantly agitated, not dissimilar to how the stream of busy activity in a vast forest coalesces into a deeply comforting, consolidated panorama. Filled with bittersweet sentimental references, this is highly impressionistic music, in which Deupree is no longer programmatically putting images to sound, but rather trying to capture a very particular mood as precisely and lucidly as possible.

Snow was, however, programmatic in one essential aspect, namely in its treatment of the theme of transience. While the music dealt with this concept by all but imperceptibly taking the Leitmotif apart and gradually submerging it underneath a slow-motion wave of related overtones, each copy came accompanied by a unique Polaroid taken only footsteps away from Deupree's home at two distinct points in time - one of them, as the title denotes, in the morning and the other in the evening. Captured on expired film, their colours quickly started to fade, leaving intact nothing but a dark-greenish surface and  the barely recognisable, blotted silhouettes of fir trees in the distance. As little as there is to see in objective terms, image and sound make for a congenial combination: Just like the moment has gone and faded to a sorrowful echo in the observer's mind, so have its representational artifacts. And yet, one could go as far as to claim that rightly the act of disappearing instills new life into them. What one realises through several listens is that the current experience of the piece never quite matches one's mental image. Memory, as Snow reveals, is nothing but an – admittedly powerful – illusion. And strangely, by submitting oneself to it again and again, its poison is neutralised, the wound closed.

Despite being relegated, thanks to its highly limited print-run, to a side-thought, Snow (Dusk, Dawn) brought a fruitful chapter in Deupree's work to an acme. This, after all, seemed to be what the labyrinthine tales of Northern were already tentatively alluding to and what those crackling and playful short stories of Weather & Worn were secretly anticipating. Notions of linear development had been brought to the brink, where they were only held in balance by the thoughful considerations of their creator: A pleasant roughness and inchoateness – or, in the terms of their author, a conscious „imperfection“ - had stolen its way into the music and so had the idea of creating a piece of music in analogy to a system rather than on the basis of traditional chord progressions, thematic leads or a definitive point of destination. It is this analogy which has now become the main focus. With Shoals, Deupree is taking the possibly most radical step in his career, as he crosses the river of last conventions into a deeply personal land, whose exact topology may not even be known to himself. The step may on paper look more logical and consequential than his prior move from foremost beat-driven work to quietly moving glacial soundscapes. And yet, at the time, there was an easy permission to do so, as Ambient, House and Techno were caught in a general process of raprochement, their borders turning porous and permeable. This time, though, barring a few like-minded spirits, he's on his own.

Of course, there were precedents. Deupree has named Microstoria and Vladislav Delay as just two examples for acts adept at creating similarly open sonic environments. What sets Shoals apart is how, in these environments, space and musical motives are inseparably connected to each other and how their functionalities have been reversed. Rather than propelling the narrative, drones, hums and harmonics span threedimensional zones, in which the organic resonances, deep bass waves or occasional rhythmic pulses of a variety of Gamelan instruments as well as their processed clicks, fragmented noises and gentle glitches are turning into the real thematic protagonists. Some of the progressive soundscapes in the mid-90s would pursue a similar paradigm shift, but they deliberately did not aim at a fully-fledged integration of these two layers, merely implanting the one on top of the other. What Deupree is suggesting here instead is a style informed by the ideal of universal harmony, of turning up the natural frequencies around us until a hidden world of music comes to the surface, of placing the listener inside the music rather than confronting him with it.

These pieces are thus not just blurring the border between composition and installation, they are also changing the relationship between the composer and his audience. Rather than being presented with a definitive result, one is actively invited to navigate and find a personal path. There is, at various points of „Shoals“ a conscious overload of events, with myriads of tiny semblances superimposed on each other into vertiginous constructions seven to eight layers high. No one could process all of this information at once and so each visit turns into a new journey, depending on where one decides to focus one's centre of attention. Even though Deupree has left markers along the way, subtly signalling where the main trajectory might be, there is really no need to follow him: Just standing still, marking time and trying to glimpse down this friendly abyss is a satisfying act of listening in itself – but so is the more traditional route of observing and marveling at the constantly changing constellations of harmonies and sounds revolving around it. Perhaps this far into his career, Deupree simply sees no need for grand, general – and thereby implicitly superficial – statements any more, regarding his job mainly as creating an inspiring world of sound and fully trusting his listeners to use it to their own advantage. The challenge no longer lies in the conclusiveness of a predetermined storyline but in imbuing even near-silent particles with emotional resonance capable of triggering powerful bouts of nostalgia.

This is why a review can only hint at what these tracks can mean to a listener. From the floating tranquility and tender immersiveness of the title track and the sentimental tides of „Rusted Oak“ to the ambiguous calm of „A Fading Found“ and the resting undulation of „Falls Touching Grasses“, they embody the very fleeting nature of the moment: A sudden electronic bleep turns into an epiphany, but it never returns. A melodic twist seems to offer a clue, but it disappears into the ether. Everything about them suggests they could go on forever but inevitably, they of course fade away into the whispering void of silence in the end.

At the same time, their finiteness is what differentiates these works from traditional ambient soundscapes and lends them their full emotional weight. In this sense, an exquisitely packaged 7-inch-edit of Shoals, rightly because of its improbable shortness, may be the even stronger statement: It is only by accepting the transience of the moment that one can truly appreciate its beauty, after all.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Taylor Deupree
Homepage: 12k Records

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