Grisha Shakhnes – ARCS

Grisha Shakhnes - ARCS, blue-tinted closeup of celluloid film

Grisha Shakhnes’ music hovers on the edge of clarity, of a substance that has either worn away or not quite become yet. The more ambiguous it grows, the more it thrums with possibilities. His new album “ARCS”, even more so than previous outings, initially fails to make a strong impression — it lacks the pulsating rhythms that open “All This Trouble For Nothing”, or the audibly recognisable field recordings of “choice ambience”, for example. Yet in a way, the very features that make the majority of “ARCS” sound quite anonymous and nondescript are precisely what makes it so interesting and absorbing. (There’s a twist in this tale, which we shall come to later.)

Shakhnes continues further down the rabbit hole of tape-based electronics, where the playback of material — the magnetic distortions, mechanical vibrations, and physical manipulations — is as much or more a part of the music than what was on the tape to begin with. Qualities initially ignored as quirks or flaws of equipment coalesce into discernible patterns, tonalities, even melodies. Rattles and thumps add rhythm, soft swishing and swirling colour, and buzzings and whistlings a sort of tunefulness. But for the most part the music is quiet, subdued, and amorphous: deep tones are like muffled explosions going off deep underground, and high-pitched ones shimmer and flutter elusively. At one point during ‘an ode to self-containment’, an inaudible earthquake sets a stack of crockery trembling, or at least that’s how it seems — but the sound is woolly and distorted, even as it grows in intensity; a chimera of a sonic event. Change happens slowly, like the accrual of sediment on a river bed, yet there’s a tension in that slowness that never quite relaxes its grip.

That twist, though: final piece ‘how long?’ suddenly lets the dam burst open, unleashing a torrent of thick gusting clatters, whipping distorted whoops, and fast, high-pitched chirruping like birdsong accelerated to ten times normal speed. It’s a crazed cacophony, all the more agitated due to the contrast with the rest of the album, an ecstatic ritual dance after long meditation. I love Shakhnes’ music for its ambiguity, its ability to pass through a thousand different shapes without congealing into any of them; but I love it equally for its ability to surprise, to confound expectations, and to take me to places I never thought I’d be going. “ARCS” is a stellar example of both tendencies.

Grisha Shakhnes / Disappearing Records

Marginal Frequency

Image by Yael Skidelski

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