Koen Holtkamp – Liquid Light Forms
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For the most part the Hudson River, like the nearby Catskill Mountains, belongs entirely to New York. It has an island fortress, a disputed point of origin, and its first name Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk meant “the water that moves both ways.” The river valley is a national heritage site, and its natural beauty has earned the region the nickname America’s Rhineland.
Batten Kill and Hoosic are tributaries of the Hudson River, and these three watercourses make up the tracklist of Koen Holtkamp’s forthcoming Barge release Liquid Light Forms. Admittedly the album was recorded during easier times for this region, as images of destroyed homes and flooded neighborhoods — as reports of children drowned in rushing water — darken our news feeds. But the place will recover, and unwitting testimonials like this, momentarily anachronistic, will help New York to set the course.
Koen Holtkamp is one-half of Chicago-based duo Mountains, and although that project is renown for its digital manipulations of acoustic sources, Liquid Light Forms instead “focuses almost entirely on electronic pieces utilizing predominantly voltage controlled modular synthesizers and sequencers.” Perhaps it is just suggestion taking over, but sound becomes river water at once. The 17-minute “Battenkill” begins with almost visible oscillations — like ripples in a pond — and a bubbling modem effect. It is insect-quick and a little chaotic, yet entrancing. The composition explodes by slow degrees into a blinking, circling, humming, pulsing, electronic Arcadia. The downy purr of analog synthesizer inevitably causes the listener to look out and up, but the cosmic rhythms here are strictly upper-atmosphere. Think of a satellite image of Hyde Park and you’re close. The exquisite track length lets us settle in, pour a drink.
The video game nostalgia and wi-fi modernity continue with “Hoosick,” which bears a strong resemblance to church organ tinkering. Again, Holtkamp offers the flitting transmission set against a trickling current (apparently the Hudson really does flow north and south, depending). Again, the single instrument contract leaves room for the natural world: flocks of birds, maternal calls, audio feedback…. The album closes with “Hudson Static,” recorded live at Shea Stadium. The title track of sorts, “Hudson Static” tenders the idea of water turned to white noise: a startling visual cue, no doubt. It is fitting that this track provides the angriest moments throughout the album. The frenetic, high-register synthesizer riffs absolutely fill the place, and the waves of brine, the walls of orchestration only hint at rhythm.
Liquid Light Forms is available on November 20, in digital format and in a limited edition of 400 vinyl copies, with the first 100 copies available on translucent yellow. This is a proud tribute to tributaries, and to the strength of the people who take water from them.
- Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio