It was perhaps inadvertently helpful that i first listened to LP1, a new release from Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann, in bed late at night. Not because it’s nocturnal, as such, but more to do with the fact that it sounded in sympathy with the pitch blackness all around me. For while it wouldn’t be accurate to say that LP1 is an album without colours, still less that it’s a ‘black’ music, there’s nonetheless an inscrutability to its palette that i find fascinating every time i listen to it. Its soundworld is something of an amalgam of the cycling, mechanical, glitchy plinky-clunk of Michael Cutting and the overlapping, quasi-isorhythmic patterns of Brian Eno’s earliest ambient music. If that suggests a paradox, the one tightly-controlled and hands-on, the other loosely-arranged and hands-off, then that’s exactly what permeates all four tracks of LP1, a sensibility in which improvisational freedom and compositional planning are evidently both being brought to bear on the music at the same time.
There’s a dronal aspect to this, which fuels the sense of music always moving while never moving far from its starting point. In opening track ‘6.15’ it’s founded upon enormous deep bass pulses that form the bedrock for a network of soft glitches, breathy vocalise and an assortment of pitches that emerge and recede at random. The bass is so profoundly low that it practically transcends the notion of drone, instead becoming a kind of architectonic rumble, like the low resonance given off by a far-distant energy source. Its omnipresence is curiously elusive; trying to focus on it somehow renders it less perceptible. Nonetheless, its consistency enables a dual state that on one level feels meditative – its higher-level sounds gently impinging against each other, occasionally accompanied by wordless singing – while being simultaneously insistent, demanding attention. As such, it’s not remotely background or atmospheric music, but an altogether more active form of immersion. Third track ‘4.19’ acts in a similar way, delicate Fender Rhodes notes calmly rotating and coalescing around a fixed central point, like a sonic mobile. There are hints of Eno’s Music For Airports here, but its texture is much more complex, and again, doesn’t in any way encourage disinterest in the listener.
The inscrutable palette i spoke of manifests most powerfully in the way Branciforte and Bleckmann ramp up the intensity and – more importantly – the density of the music. ‘5.5.9’, which ends the album, drapes everything in heavy reverb, having the uncanny effect of both deadening things while allowing them to resound. Its unsettling soundworld brings to mind Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch’s more tortured material from Twin Peaks: all traces of pitch and noise, whether human, acoustic or electronic, are rendered almost unreal – practically figments – within its juddering environment, unidentifiable streaks and traces of sonic stuff that together accumulate into an opaque mass that radiates a kind of ‘anti-light’. Even more dense – one of densest things i’ve heard in a long time, in fact – is ‘3.4.26’. There’s no indication of this at first, the duo establishing a soft texture of vocal sounds and pitch droplets, again dronal in nature. But within a couple of minutes the agglomeration of its internal elements is sufficiently compressed that all movements seem practically to have stopped, and all details are extremely hard to make out (despite there being a lot of them). Details do emerge – most obviously a small vocal phrase that’s folded into the texture, and various chords that find their way to the surface – but it’s the way the music sounds so trammelled, its elements crammed together, that primarily holds our attention. As a consequence, in the best way it’s the hardest of the four pieces to penetrate, a convolution of equilibrium and instability, serenity and turbulence that, while it typifies LP1 as a whole, is at its most beautiful here.