Orlando, the latest album on perpetual favourites Time Released Sound, continues the label’s delve into more experimental waters. Though the label has generally revolved around ambient, drone and minimal pastoral music, it has gone further afield with Joe Frawley’s 13 Houses and the Mermaid and Night Shift & Olli Aarni’s brilliant sound collages. Orlando is more experimental in terms of its form than its content; The split release alternates tracks between the two artists and its inspiration is roughly drawn from Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name. Having never read the novel I can’t really comment on the veracity of the ‘imagined soundtrack’, but it does capture something of the duality of what Woolf I am familiar with.
Both con_cetta and MonoLogue adhere to traditions up to a point – the piano-led sections draw on the simple delicacy of old piano sonatas, for example, or there’s the fact that the book the music is based on is heading towards a century old. But they are also concerned with playing around those traditions, building on and deconstructing them. The opening track, by con_cetta, underscores its lamenting piano and strings with field recordings, expanding its palette beyond the instruments to their surroundings and thereby highlighting the music as an artwork, rather than ‘pure’ art. This kind of self-awareness is a reasonably familiar trope of modernist writing as well, and it is taken up again in “Tethered to the Heart” (also by con_cetta), whose stuttering and fragmenting of the piano notes calls attention to their construction. They fade, and then the field recordings of everyday chatter and bustle return. The Caretaker is an obvious touchstone here (as for any music featuring pianos, a dust of faded electronic manipulation and references to the early twentieth century), but a more useful comparison might be made to sample-heavy artists like the aforementioned Night Shift or even The Avalanches – although the music here by no means sounds anything like either of those. There is, however, a similar fragmentation, which runs even to the splitting and ordering of the tracks. The process of creating music is not presented as something to be hidden, but something to delight in, to enjoy the contrasts and dialogues that come out of it. Orlando calls for an active listener, one who’s attuned to those constructions and dualities – active at the very least because you have to reorder you iTunes cataloging in order to listen to the album in full.
None of this is to say that the album is jarring or overtly disparate; in fact, despite its variety and interest in fractures, it’s remarkably coherent. con_cetta and MonoLogue are a good match, covering similar territory in similar ways. For instance, MonoLogue also gets the piano out, although its appearance in “You or I” is harsher than elsewhere, and more equal in the mix with its accompanying electronics. A low buzz of field recording, like electronic crickets, is used for similar purpose in the final track (another MonoLogue number) as those in the early con_cetta pieces, to lightly touch the fourth wall and draw some attention to the manipulation around the already quite odd and disturbing tuned percussion melody.
Both artists also seem to be interested in another duality shared with Woolf’s writing – that of childlike innocence and an adult worldliness. This interest is focused mainly in the thirteen-minute central piece by MonoLogue, “Procrastination of a Construction”. It opens with a naïve glockenspiel figure, which is quickly subsumed by rasping drones. About five minutes in the opening figure returns, but echoing and fragmented and without its former innocence. The piece isn’t so much cynical as just weary. The roughshod quality to the ambience, adorned with flickering, scraping sounds, feels like it’s been an effort to get out, the tired breathing of a laboured body. The rasps increase in frequency towards the end of the piece. But that innocence never seems lost as such, just left behind, still there but moved on from. And perhaps that’s even sadder.
Orlando is no mere academic pleasure, however. Its intrigues make it rewarding for multiple listens, but it’s love of dialogue and self-awareness also make it easy to engage with and to enjoy on a purely aesthetic level. For two little-known artists, it’s an excellent introduction. It’s the album’s intelligence that makes it worth coming back to though, for a knowing exposition of process and fragment. Accompanied by Colin Herrick’s suitably collaged and typically lavish packaging (for it would be a shame for it to go without mention), Orlando also marks a promising start for Time Released Sound’s 2014.