In signal processing terms, an artefact is information that is not considered part of the signal being transmitted, but is rather the result of external interference or internal technical deficiencies. Magnetic tape is notorious for its artefacts: pitch wobble, hiss, and low resolution at the extreme ends of the audible frequency spectrum are frequently encountered properties of the transmission medium. On “Twine”, their follow-up to 2011’s excellent collaborative album “In A Place of Such Graceful Shapes”, Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer have chosen to make these purported artefacts part of the signal, using the characteristics of tape as a means of shaping and moulding a handful of acoustic and electronic sound sources the way a composer might use the physical and timbral characteristics of various orchestral instruments to shape and mould the sound of an orchestra.
Where the material being fed through the tape reel just isn’t that interesting, no amount of added fuzz and wobble can save it. This happens once or twice, I feel, across the seven tracks of “Twine”, but this is more than made up for by the strength of the remainder. In ‘Buoy’, a deep bell-like sound rings out with a terrific “buh-donnnnnnng”, and reverb is used to create a strong sense of atmosphere. Here the tape effects contribute to the piece’s inherent sense of distance and scale, the tendency of its ocean to fog over, rather than being sprinkled on afterwards with hopes for the best. The constant shifting of ‘Telegraph’ between blurring and coming into focus, congealing into pattern and dispersing into randomness, swelling and dissipating, relies less on the properties of tape than on the knack for corralling drift and uncertainty that characterises Fischer’s landmark album “Monocoastal”.
If you ever loved listening to chewed-up old tapes more than pristine new ones, you’ll certainly love “Twine”. To my ears the best pieces are those in which the unwinding of tape is indistinguishable from the movement of the piece as a whole, becoming inaudible as discrete effect. The album blurb emphasises chance and accident, but perhaps more important than chance is risk — those rolls of the dice that have stakes riding on them. The barely-thereness of ‘Kern’ and the labouring of ‘Sailmaker’ under the constant threat of disintegration illustrate this principle; their eerie, unsettling hover between sense and non-sense demonstrates the ability of the musicians to draw us into riskier, more dangerous territory. This is the point at which I forget about how Deupree and Fischer go about making their music and start simply listening to it, drawn up in its world.
http://mapmap.ch/ (Marcus Fischer)
Edit: an earlier version of this review referred to cassette tape, when in fact 1/4″ tape was used in the production of the album.