Ruhlmann + Strickland – This Heap Is Greater Light

Ruhlmann + Strickland - This Heap Is Greater Light, illustration of a strange orange bug on a turqouise background

A man is singing Talking Heads’ classic ‘Road to Nowhere’ in the street. He sings a little out of tune, but with great gusto. His voice is soon wrapped in underwater scrapes and clunks, a distant tapping. A low bass drone enters, trailed by clicks and whirrs; a door slams shut. Tones gleam and air rushes, newspaper is scrunched and torn, then the tones become more buzzing, building thrumming, resonating chords. Pause.

The four tracks on “This Heap Is Greater Light” claim to incorporate “field recordings, digital synthesis, classical instruments, and a sundry of everyday occurrences using reel to reel tape machines and VCR decks”. To my ears, it’s often very difficult to tell what’s what, all the different sound sources being thrown into a blender and processed until they become almost or completely unrecognisable. There’s lots of humming, buzzing, scraping, hissing, clunking, rushing, rattling, and fuzzing, along with some more tonal sounds that might be digital or analogue in origin, and the occasional muted or distorted outbreak of voices. Often, it seems like the thing that gives the pieces their form is the tension between more tonal sounds and less pitched clatter and churn, as when ‘Fade the Species’ opens with an attractive glimmering ringing that gives way to buzz and squelch, or when the ghostly organ melody later in the same piece is suddenly overlaid with echoing voices and the trickling of water.

Volume and density is also used to shape the music, the rough burbles and clatters sometimes contrasted with a choir singing softly or a faint bass tone — but things rarely stay quiet for long. A peak is reached on final track ‘The Sun Tutoyers Me!’, when the afore-mentioned blender goes into overdrive to mix together a prolonged cacophony of rattles, hums, and fuzzes. Eventually the hubbub fades away to leave strange, deep chords that sound like heavily distorted and transposed voices. In the blender, everything starts to sound like everything else — but the shifting balance between pitched and unpitched sounds makes “This Heap Is Greater Light” an enjoyable, sometimes delightful listen.

 

 

Mathieu Ruhlmann

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