“Lowlands”, the musical collaboration between Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer, marks the third audio release for the IIKI imprint. The visual component of the release comes from photographer Ester Vonplon whose photos for the accompanying book are of her 3-week journey along the ‘ice-clogged Arctic Ocean’. Both the visual and auditory components of the release take an almost microscopic lens to their respective mediums to create an immersive shared narrative.
As the album opens, it’s a gentle affair that almost hypnotizes the listener into a state of calm. Water sounds are used to effect and are quite loud in the mix on the album’s second piece “On Branches”. Many artists playing in the field of ambient/minimal electronic music have used water as source material or the found sound component of their pieces – ambient music is about fundamentals, stripping things to the essentials – and narratively, water is frequently a fundamental symbol for life. But in this case, Vonplon’s source visuals make a case for water as a specific reference rather than a general one.
Where both the photography and the sounds become more interesting is where they delve even deeper, getting into murkier territory. The third piece of the album is “Rides” and it immediately feels more moody, more fragmented, more ominous. Where water is a symbol of life, water – particularly when talking about oceans – is also a symbol of abyss and the unknown. And both Vonplon and Fischer/Deupree channel this to create a cohesive work that is both inviting but also one that honours the dangerously unknowable aspects of its source inspiration.
Many of the photos in the book are taken so close to what’s captured in the frame that there’s almost nothing outside of it. For example, there are many pictures of pieces of ice floating in water but there is no context, so it simply exists as a series of colours and contours set against an infinite backdrop (some of the most ominous pictures in the book contain broken ice floating against water that seems almost black).
Vonplon’s photographs seem interested in the most basic elements of what can be captured in the frame of a photo: colours and textures. The photos are both extremely basic and almost intimidatingly infinite. And Fischer and Deupree have done the same with the music; it feels like a series of sounds where the various parts co-exist to form something bigger but aren’t being forced to create artificial seams so that they come across as falsely cohesive. And the effect on the listener of that approach is that the individual parts are often melodious, but the larger whole is too soaked in mystery to be considered completely inviting.
As a third release for the IIKKI imprint, it’s another one for the win column. Although the narrative of “Lowlands” is a specific one, there’s something more generally revelatory about the interplay between the visuals and the sounds. Vonplon took a personal voyage and turned it into something more grand – there is not a human to be found in any of these photos, instead what she gives the viewer is a vast infinitum as captured by a single human in a specific time and a specific place. Sonically, Fischer and Deupree create music that is equally vast and somehow the product of a specific set of circumstances/sounds. Vonplon and Deupree/Fischer strip their respective mediums to their most basic elements, but in doing so they create something vast, moving, and memorable.