How do you describe visual inspiration with music? Particularly when that inspiration is something so relentlessly clichéd and re-clichéd by instrumental artists of every country and style down the years as clouds and the light that shines through them. It’s brave that any artist would consider such skygazing an appropriate and individual subject matter anymore. There are a few approaches that could be taken. There is the use of field recordings (problematic in this case since clouds make no sound), whose sense of momentary, unrepeatable capture is consistently able to capture audiences’ imaginations. Or an artist might take a purely emotional response, making music that bears little resemblance to its inspiration in form, but that conveys the artist’s personal response to it. On the other hand, they might take a more scientific angle, using the lines and contours of sound, its tones, its textures to draw the lines, contours, tones and textures of a visual phenomenon. Packaging also helps. The Descending Light is a good example of how physical art – here a selection of photo cards and a slide that allows you to see the light descending through a cloud – can let the listener make the same visual-sonic connection as the artist at the same time as hearing their music.
Fescal’s approach is a mixture of specific and emotional. The South Korea-based musician’s style is pretty well suited to the theme. His ambience is thin, wispy and fleeting. A noctilucent flicker trembles across the speakers in “Awake Before I’m Down”, ragged yet serene. Crackles and pops bring to mind outdated photographs like the slides provided with the album. It is easy to see the gaps between the piece’s foreground sounds as those between fragile clouds. A distant, two-note melody shines down through them, diluted by the air but refreshing all the same.
Over the course of the EP, the ambience thickens gradually. Much like the opener, “Breaking Point” swirls a delicate blanket effect and pierces it with a simple, iridescent theme. It is on “The Lark Ascending” that the clouds really start to gather. Apparently oddly, given its strong, hopeful title, the piece is grainy and distorted. Little or no light pierces the ambience and a direct, mobile melody propels the track like a stiff wind. This is where Fescal’s emotional response comes into play. What might seem threatening or grim (or just mundane to us British) on the visual/scientific representation level – a sky of scudding, grey clouds – is seen to be exciting. The motion, the thickening of effects injects some life into soothed ears, quickens the heartbeat a little, gathering pace to take flight. Like a lark, perhaps.
The EP comes with a second disk of remixes that vary the theme of “Breaking Point”, and all of which provide a slightly different take on the question of how to represent the clouds – with varying degrees of success. Bram van den Oever’s “Irididecent” does a good job of mimicking the varying colours of iridescence, crossing mallet-instruments melodies, vocals, synthesised ambience and other things in wobbling themes that shift slightly with every change of perspective. However, it seems to miss the simplicity and delicacy of many iridescent things, like bubbles or shells, and tends to overload the senses. Philippe Lamy’s “Noctiliecent” goes the other way, stripping back an already minimal track into a fuzzy drone, surrounded by unidentified drips, bubbles and crinkles. A sound like hundreds of crickets sped up rises over the top: it would be shrill if it weren’t so tantalisingly quiet. Like the cloud structure from which it roughly takes its name it is all ragged edges and missing substance; it captures its subject well and, like much good minimal music, it leaves gaps for the listener to fill in.
Despite the quality of some of the remixes, it is Fescal’s material that is clearly the main attraction of The Descending Light. He adeptly balances a specific, descriptive approach and an emotional response to his inspiration. He captures it well enough that even without the visual stimuli that Wist Records have provided the EP would still sound like descending light and its atmospheric obstacles. The personal interpretations of the subject matter make the music individual enough that it is a worthwhile entry into the ever-growing catalogue of instrumental music looking to the heavens, rather than merely another technical exercise in something we’ve already had described to us before.
Available through Stashed Goods