It’s a good sign when, despite being a passionate believer in the maxim “less is more” in terms of a composer’s output, i still find myself feeling frustrated and impatient waiting for certain artists to create something new. That’s been the case very strongly with Vietnamese-Australian musician Carolyn Schofield, aka Fia Fiell. My introduction to her work came in 2018 with All In The Same Room, a dazzling collection of ambient synth mosaics that came very high in my Best Albums list for that year. This subsequently led to me discovering her earlier album A Hair, A Heap (2016), which is even more outstanding, since when there’s been very little to keep my appetite sated.
Until now: last week, Schofield released a new 15-minute EP, Endless Filament, which finds her moving away from some of the more mobile, active ideas explored on those earlier releases, entering into a much more smooth, slow-moving environment. This is a soundworld dominated by harmony, where chords hang in space, their identity not so much taking time to fully cohere as being in a permanent state of shape-shifting. Dronal fundamentals and tonalities are clear, but their internal details are anything but, exploring different parts of the harmonic series in an elegant ballet. Elsewhere, usually distant, there’s the possibility of bird- or animal-like calls, sounding from the periphery of the environment. Much closer are pitches that aspire less to melody than to rhythm, revelling in their own sound through sequences of speeding up and slowing down.
Over time, more and more of these individual elements make their presence felt – though Schofield always keeps them restrained – distracting from the fact that the fundamental harmonies are themselves more mobile than they seemed at first: often rooted in a strong perfect fifth foundation, but free to slowly roam from place to place. Along the way, there are times when the music undergoes small-scale blooms, moments that sometimes hint at a greater level of energy at the core of the music. Parallel to this are a variety of twiddling synth ideas that spring up, move, and vanish subject to capricious whims of spontaneity; likewise, there are passages where Schofield reduces all activity back to an almost unmoving, minimal suspension, simply allowing the notes to sound ad libitum, with nothing more happening than the slightest dynamic flex.
The closing couple of moments introduce a change of behaviour, the music now breaking up with a faster-moving chordal idea that highlights just how mellifluous the preceding 13 minutes have been. The flow ends up changed, concluding with soft electronic purring.
The calmness of Endless Filament only makes its loveliness all the more pronounced. It is a truly gorgeous deep dive into an ambient world of quiet, utter beauty. Each time it ends, i find myself drawn back to its title, to the word “Endless”, and find myself wishing it were true. There’s that frustration and impatience again; where Fia Fiell’s music is concerned, it really is never enough.
Released by Longform Editions, Endless Filament is available on digital download.
For those who, like me, suffer the same impatience, there’s a couple of Fia Fiell tracks that you won’t want to miss. The first is ‘Middle Path’, included on the 2020 compilation New Weird Australia, Solitary Wave (In) (available as a free download). Over the course of its 7-minute duration, the piece is practically hypnotised by its own cycling arpeggios, offering glimpses of a possible melodic idea earlier on, yet ultimately moving in the direction of a pushy foreground pulse over which a glitchy motif rings out. It’s short, but gloriously mesmeric.
Even more wonderful is ‘Undercurrent’, a track Schofield created last year in collaboration with guzheng player Mindy Meng Wang, for her album Phoenix Rising. They start at opposite ends of the spectrum, Wang contemplating isolated notes, Schofield projecting different forms of throb in various registers. Yet it’s a contrast that soon melds into a much more complex music, where the two blur our understanding of what’s in focus. Wang’s guzheng shifts into cascading patterns while Schofield’s electronics shimmer and expand, creating an intoxicating combination where their seemingly disjunct timbres could hardly be more perfectly integrated. Both ramp up the intensity later, Wang violently thrumming the guzheng, Schofield creating crunchy pressure waves all around. Another Fia Fiell track that i absolutely wish would never end.