As I was preparing this review, high winds and heavy rainfall were battering north-western Europe, transforming the acoustic environment of the city in which I live into a ringing, singing, rattling and splattering durational performance. In this context, the music of Chicagoan duo Coppice never sounded more like a natural phenomenon in its surging power — at least to these ears recently altered and calibrated by the weather. There is some irony to this, as the instruments and techniques chosen by the musicians, which centre around the manipulation of various electronic and mechanical contraptions, would seem to downplay any association with pastoralisms old or new. Indeed, perhaps it is only through an exclusive focus on the sonic potential of the tools to hand that music of such weight and materiality, the very qualities that identify it most clearly as an object in a world of objects, can be produced.
“So Lobes Drape as Such Gills Over a Hanger’s Pit” is a complex title for a piece that is on one level relatively simple, consisting as it does of long, sustained notes of full, thick bass and scatters of tape hiss and flutter. However, complexity arises in the interplay between the solidity and stability of the low tones and the unpredictability of the tape manipulations, as the work slides from intentional gesture to contingent accumulation of forces and back again. Second piece “Soft Crown” has a shorter title, but is much longer in duration: here things are often toned down a little in volume, yet imprint themselves on the senses with just as much presence. An astounding passage mid-way through the piece could credibly pass as a recording of a collapsing iceberg.
It’s hard not to hear in certain of Coppice’s recent works traces of the mystical, even the shamanistic: this tendency is most evident here in the nasally, chant-like drones and whispering breezes of “Soft Crown”. I’m not as concerned by this development as I might once have been. While a bout of neo-primitivism is perhaps the last thing art needs right now, the steadfast commitment of the (earthly) powers-that-be to rationalised austerity perhaps grants the aesthetics of magic and enchantment new critical purchase. These are not the times to fear beauty. At any rate, it is fair to say that the duo remain far more concerned with abstract timbre and texture than with evoking the otherworldly, even if the former sometimes coincidentally leads to the latter — the ghostly exhalation of bellows and rumble of tape remain both intriguing and enthralling in their own right, a rigorous sonic experimentalism grounded in sheer material heft.