Damian Valles – Nonparallel
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Damian Valles’s work has always been about exploration, but with his latest album what he is exploring is the work of his musical peers rather than simply his own ideas. Nonparallel, is constructed out of samples from the recordings of avant-garde Western classical composers and computer music released by the Nonesuch label in the 60s and 70s. That may sound odd considering this is coming from a guy known for his guitar-driven ambient sound; however, what Nonparallel does is serve as a sort of an exclamation mark to clarify what it really is Valles is trying to accomplish with his craft. As much as Nonparallel may seem like the odd man out within the Valles catalogue, in many ways, this is the thesis statement of his work
The task Valles took on with this project was to create news songs by sampling old material from artists he revered. As a further caveat, all the material had to be sourced directly from vinyl. The first thing to note is that the samples he uses are of rather small snippets of music – so much so that the sources are unidentifiable. As such, the snippets he chooses all have the feeling of parts of the compositions that may to the undiscerning listener seem incidental. Without being familiar with much of the source material, there is a sense that the samples here are all culled from transition moments: a bow grazing too hard against the strings, the final chord of a progression, a buildup, a bridge, a final coda. In other words: the sort of stuff that you don’t normally build an entire song around. And since they are now configured as drone pieces, there is no escaping them.
What Valles seems to be doing is putting a microscope to those moments and magnifying them to infinity. The same can be said of the way he incorporates the hiss and pop of the vinyl into the pieces of music. With many artists currently working with tape loops, that crackle of the tapes is almost soothing. Not so here; many times the sounds we normally associate with the “warmth” and “character” of vinyl are almost threatening in this environment.
The point of highlighting that these were electronic composers and also using vinyl as the source material – not to mention the processing of the sounds – all suggest that this is a record about technology. The challenge most electronic musicians put before themselves is to create music that is deeply human even though the instruments they use are not necessarily viewed as organic. What Valles often seems to be searching for is to create a new emotional narrative by selecting these tiny fragments of music that likely got buried within a larger composition and giving them centre stage. Take for example “Movement III”; what is semi-discernible is a funereal almost organ-like sound and something scrapping against strings (a bow? a guitar? we don’t know what though). By processing that moment, Valles takes that incidental moment and builds a whole narrative around it. That emotional lift or fall may have been there, but was the listener given appropriate time to let it resonate? Nonparallel is in part an ode to his peers and part of the idea here seems to be that having encountered it, the listener can return to the source material attuned to those tiny details, and perhaps even experience those works in a more full and vital way.
Years ago, I asked a very talented guitarist friend who was always writing these amazing/bizarre/melodic guitar parts what his process was for coming up with a riff. His answer has always stuck with me: “ I write a riff, play it over and over again until I make a mistake and then remember the mistake and play the riff +mistake”. Nonparallel works along a similar line in that it takes that which is incidental and makes it central. But part of the point to Nonparallel seems to be to remind us all that nothing is incidental. It may seem odd for Valles to make so much out of the minute details of works that many people have forgotten or just plain aren’t familiar with, but to view it from another perspective, these moments of intense beauty may have never been highlighted at all were it not for Valles. Sure, those moments of sound may seem scary and foreboding when magnified x1000 under Valles’s microscopic lens, but whoever said beauty had to be safe.
- Brendan Moore for Fluid Radio