Between You And The Shapes You Take
It could be said that what makes ambient drone ‘ambient’ is that its time unfolds from within, according to the work’s own internal logic, rather than following a regular metre imposed from the outside. Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg’s new collaborative album “Between You And The Shapes You Take” is hardly an example of textbook ambient drone — as if such labels were still useful these days in describing the diversity of approaches adopted by musicians — yet a consideration of time could still provide a useful way in to the work. The initial impression is that “BY&TSYT” has a time that is countable, that a few taps of the foot would reveal a sense of where bars begin and end, but such impressions turn out to be misleading: each of the ten tracks follows its own path, which is not to say that they play fast and loose with time, or fail to get to where they’re going, but that they each take their next step when they’re ready and not when the metronome tells them to.
It is this sense of time as a constant unfolding rather than a succession of discrete measurable intervals that turns everything on its head. ‘Clarinet Assembly’ would be a Kenny G-worthy mood piece were it not for the sense of time unravelling, first in the off-kilter roiling percussion, then in the orchestral surges that replace it. The repeating patterns of tracks such as “Radio Flyby” have more to do with the circularity of waves breaking on the shore, or the oscillation of radio signals, than with a marching beat. And even the regular coconut-hoof clip-clop of “Easy Travel” is a mark of stasis and sameness that needs the chords and melodies uncurling around it to get anywhere.
“BY&TSYT” is perhaps less adventurous than the duo’s debut “The Gorilla Variations”, and a shade darker in hue, exchanging gleeful surprise for richer harmonies and more cohesion. Listen more closely, however, and the intricacies that allow the music to flow unhindered become apparent. There’s often too much reverb on Berg’s voice and clarinet for my liking, but I do like how these two instruments rarely push themselves to centre stage, instead adding themselves to the general hum of things. This is an album that doesn’t impose, but rather draws out a space and time all of its own, and an eminently habitable and hospitable one at that — a step forward in confidence and maturity for Vitiello and Berg’s work together as a duo, and a restrained but quietly challenging and rewarding listen.