Wayne McGregor has great taste in ambient music. I saw his piece FAR a couple years ago, and hearing Ben Frost‘s delicate yet concussive score, then unreleased, was as rich a part of the experience as watching the dance. McGregor has also commissioned music from the likes of Max Richter (Sum and Infra) and Ólafur Arnalds (Dyad 1909), and you can add to that list A Winged Victory for the Sullen, a collaboration between Stars of the Lid‘s Adam Wiltzie and pianist Dustin O’Halloran. Their score for ATOMOS recasts the elegant sound of their 2011 debut for McGregor’s purposes, with pensive melancholy shading into physical menace.
If Stars of the Lid’s music sounds like a hollowed-out 100-piece ensemble with ether for its innards, AWVFTS is the opposite. Made from strings, piano, the occasional horn, and electric guitars processed into ambient washes and scrawls, it’s all inner voices coiled together, more classical than drone. The music is recorded in large spaces, so that between natural acoustic and electronic effects, every instrument seems to float in an ocean-sized force field of harmonic resonance. Minimal melodic information carries maximal tone, the few voices somehow resplendently full and forlornly isolated at once.
McGregor choreographs for a leading modern company, London’s Royal Ballet, and, occasionally, Thom Yorke. Rather than making his experimental work challenging and his traditional work beautiful, he makes all of his work both, building modern movement on ballet lines. This classically tempered novelty influences his musical commissions, where chamber music anchors electronic disturbances and asymmetrical structures. AWVFTS adapts, making ATOMOS louder and more mobile than its impeccably tentative predecessor—more volatile and disjointed, with basses you can feel in your body because this is for the body. The duo’s signature stasis is now packed with interior movement; particles swarm through drones like dancers suspended in stage lighting.
If the first album was basically slow-moving, deeply sonorous chamber music under a microscope, ATOMOS pumps up elements of discord and chaos. The duo’s usual minimalist classical core, formed somewhere between the sacred and nervy repetitions of Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass, is reshaped in accord with influential dance scorers Gavin Bryars and David Tudor. Slabs of hard, bright organ-like tones arc powerfully over dark crags of bass. Strings twist in relentless screw-like figures or creep forward in inexorably widening harmonies. Electronic guitar tones are more pronounced, forming rhythmic throughlines and pulses. Forbidding abstract landscapes rise up into plangent songs, sub-frequencies crumbling apart beneath them.
The best tracks, such as “I” and “VI”, wrangle these maneuvers into an anxious, dynamic, almost symphonic sweep. All the song titles are Roman numerals—too bad, as it deprives us of the duo’s unusually self-mocking song titles. Grandiose ambient musicians are not known for their sense of humor, so titles such as “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears”, “Requiem for the Static King” and, best of all, “We Played Some Open Chords” (they did!) were refreshing. But there’s still something curious about this tracklist. There is no “IV”. What went wrong? I like to imagine that one day this lost track will surface, and it will have a kazoo in it. For now, it brings a touch of mystery to a far better than average dance score that refines rather than suppresses the musical identity of its creators. Who will Wayne McGregor call on next? Tim Hecker‘s phone has got to be about to ring.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1vxULcs