There’s a style of Japanese pottery known as Raku, described in Allen S. Weiss’ Zen Landscapes: Perspectives on Japanese Gardens and Ceramics, that is traditionally hand-moulded rather than thrown on a potter’s wheel. This gives the finished object a sort of conscious imperfection, a controlled instability if you will. There’s something of this quality to sound artist Miguel A. García’s album “Argiope”, six tracks drawing on voice, guitar, and sax from various contributors to augment a generally rough and burnished electronic palette. I sense a sort of restraint here, a choice to refrain from intervening in the sounds too much but instead let them rumble on for a little while longer. This is of course a kind of paradox, or rather, a ruse: like the tea bowl deliberately formed to create the impression of the unformed, or the almost transparent web spun by spiders of the genus Argiope that’s nonetheless good for getting tangled up in.
Often the music on “Argiope”, though quiet, retains a certain tension. This is the case on opening track ‘epso’, with its rumbles, buzzes, and wheezes. The piece is nicely present, without insistently demanding attention. Later on, ‘coccyx’ ramps the suspense up a notch with a fascinatingly complex low drone reverberating, as a guitar now and then shuffles its feet. Harsher, denser sounds come and go, followed by a clattering like a spinning motor. Suddenly everything drops to a long, quiet hum, shifting colour ever so gently, the way the surface of water shifts colour with changing light. Before this, however, ‘medusa’ injects a shot of gentle humour with its calamitous three-note wail amid rushing and buzzing.
The piece that continues to challenge me the most as a listener is the title track, which remains very quiet for a very long time. To small clicks and scratches, gradually more sounds are added — squeaks, fuzzes, tantalising quiet chords. Sometimes I feel I’m sat underwater, catching the occasional strain of music from above the surface. The effect is very different from other very quiet, sparse music, say by members of the Wandelweiser group for instance — much murkier, almost as if worn or degraded. It stands in contrast with ‘far darrig’, perhaps the most lucid piece on the album, with its saxophone pops, shimmering clouds of sine tones, smatter of car horns, and beautifully delicate poise.
So what’s the attraction of this pot-like lumpiness, which I’ve contradictorily termed “controlled instability”? I suppose part of it is a (probably) healthy sceptic’s mistrust of perfect circles and impossibly straight lines, the certainties proferred by simple melodies and instantly familiar four-chord harmonies. But there’s also something natural, or at least nature-like, about this music, in the sense of ‘nature’ being that name we give to all that is not symmetrical and that precedes/exceeds the ideal. A curious blankness, marked only occasionally by quiet humour. If what I’m listening for is something that resembles the rest of the world as I experience it, and perhaps even lets me perceive it in a particular and intense way, then I guess I’d be hoping for the kind of opaque ambiguity, the uncertainty and wobbliness of line, that I hear on “Argiope”. An unformed form, that both draws attention to the hand that shaped it and seems to disappear into the world? As I said, it’s a sort of ruse. But a very enjoyable one to listen to.