I first came across experimental electronic musician Lesley Flanigan through Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet blog. The track he featured, ‘Can Barely Feel My Feet’, is an eerie five minutes of multi-tracked vocals, strange buzzings, and slow bass that immediately caught my ear with its sense of drifting and detachment. The vocal sounds almost, but don’t quite resolve into intelligible words, a sort of garbled communication that heightens the tension and alienation induced by the piece. At the same time, the rich layers of vocals and languid pace create an impression of warmth, well balanced by the intermittent zap and zing of what I understand from Flanigan’s artist statement to be handmade electroacoustic instruments.
Even this impressive track couldn’t quite prepare me for the impact of ‘Hedera’, the 25-minute epic with which it is paired on Flanigan’s latest recorded release. A hammering mechanical beat produced by a malfunctioning tape deck forms a spine around which the artist’s voice entwines in layers more wordless and more plaintive than in its sister composition. Though sheer and dessicated in timbre, the beat is sculpted using filters to create a backbone that is relentless yet constantly shifting, propelling the vocals forward through their expansive harmonic explorations. This combination of horizontal and vertical momentum, sometimes thinning out into dizzying highs, sometimes knuckling down on hard driving force, never completely abandoning one for the sake of the other, is as riveting as it is euphoric.
Do the vocals ‘humanise’ the pounding beat, warming it and pruning off its rough edges? Or does the beat make the human voice, such a potent symbol of presence and individuality, into something more rigid, more brittle, less human? It’s not a clear case of either/or. The piece is muscular and airy, supple and ephemeral, at the same time and in equal measure. It’s baroque in the sense that it wants heaven and it wants earth and sees no reason why it can’t have both. ‘Hedera’ is a genus of plants more commonly referred to as ivies — a very appropriate name for music that remains firmly rooted in the soil while climbing towards the sky. Highly recommended.