Gareth Hardwick – Sunday Afternoon
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Gareth Hardwick’s ‘Sunday Afternoon’ was originally released as a highly–limited CD-R on Blackest Rainbow. Now, a few years later, Low Point brings us this LP version, which has been re-mastered to reveal even more layers to the piece. Made up of two extended pieces, both recorded on the same Sunday Afternoon, the entire 30 minute album is made by Hardwick using just a lap steel guitar and a few select pedals. Using just the processed lap steel Hardwick creates a soothing yet demanding album. Soothing in that Hardwick uses the instrument to create extended harmonic explorations that have an overall dreamy quality – demanding in that this is a work that does seem to constantly insist on your attention.
One word that often comes to mind with drone is balance, especially in the sense that drone relies on extending notes and phrases whilst finding a sort of emotional narrative in those seemingly simple constructions. In that light, the lap steel seems an interesting and apropos choice for creating a drone piece – it’s an instrument that requires the player’s precision to achieve specific harmonic ends. The one sheet for the album states that Hardwick tried to extract ‘the purest tone’ from the instrument, and indeed the album does feel like an insight into the instrument of choice itself. It’s as if viewing the lap steel under a microscope: one gains an appreciation for the fragility of using the instrument and for the range of harmonic movements it creates with each slide of the hand. It’s like Hardwick is slowing down time so that we can hear that within each note is actually a range of notes/harmonics/pitches/near-moments-of-feedback that when the instrument is played at a quicker pace we inevitably take for granted.
Even though the album has an overall tranquil feel, Hardwick balances delicate tones that often seem on the edge of erupting. This is music that seems always on edge; it struggles to maintain its serenity. It seems an odd thing to describe a piece as uneasy but calm, but that is the balance Hardwick achieves on this piece. It’s a sort of mirroring effect where the emotional tenseness reflects the balance required to produce the notes and sounds Hardwick achieves.
And there is another sort of mirroring that occurs: the precision necessary to find the right notes on the lap steel and the patience required to create the piece are symbiotic.
One can’t help but marvel at the patience it must have taken to create this 30+ minute piece. Movement is violence to a piece like this, and sometimes that works; in this case however, Hardwick wisely never disturbs or alters the fragility of the composition. In fact, often the only way to detect movement in the piece is to scan forward and backward within the songs to know that movement has even occurred. But there is movement and Hardwick wisely relies on the natural ebb and flow of the notes, as if the instrument is guiding him and not the other way around.
‘Sunday Afternoon’ is an album that demands for you to get lost in. This is not ambient in the sense that it is to be ignored; this is auditory meditation. ‘Sunday Afternoon’ is a deceptively simple album that gives deep insights into an artist, an instrument, and even its own genre. This is one not to be missed.
- Review by Brendan Moore for Fluid Radio