When I’m looking for peace and tranquillity, I head for the forest, or for the shore, or for any environment that hasn’t been completely dominated and subdued by human invention and industry. Yet when I arrive there, I’m quick to discover that this supposedly tranquil idyll is anything but; instead, it’s a constantly changing world of sound, movement, light, smells, and weather. Strangely, this tumult doesn’t stop me from finding the peace I’m looking for — in fact, it often seems a necessary condition for it. I can take hold of a moment — the colour of a leaf, the smell of damp soil — knowing that its sudden intensity will soon give way to something else, to boredom and to the next unfolding experience.
I sometimes come across this apparent paradox in music, too: in order to truly savour a moment (a timbre, a harmonic colour), I have to accept that it’s only a moment (rhythm, structure). This happy contradiction is writ large across Sarah Louise’s new album, the twelfth in a series of solo acoustic guitar recordings from label Vin Du Select Qualitite. Louise gets stunning tones and timbres from her twelve-string guitar (Volume 12, twelve strings, geddit?), but these rich notes and chords are swept up in leaping, tumbling melodic refrains. Each note is perfectly incomplete, looking forwards to the next one to complete it. This is music as a riverine flow, a fast-moving stream sometimes stumbling over itself in its eagerness to hurry on down the hill towards the valley. Repetition is a sort of exuberance in the act of vanishing, a joy most apparent in the glimmering drive of ‘Late April’.
Though this vital movement can be heard in every track on the album, it’s by far the only event happening in this densely-woven twelve-string world. The tension and anxiety of ‘Evidence of a Bear’, the sense of being watched by unseen eyes (or smelt by unseen nose), contrasts with the languid floating of ‘Floating Rhododendron’. The dark drama of ‘Scarab’ seems to come to a tragic conclusion, its storytelling replete with dramatic pauses and shifts in register.
But it’s to the woods and mountains and streams that the album constantly turns, not by way of mimicry or simple evocation, but more like an aural memory of being there (even though I’ve never been there before — there being, perhaps, the Blue Ridge Mountains near Louise’s home in North Carolina, or maybe some other place that exists only in the music). In its own way, each piece offers fleeting glimpses of an unforgettable landscape, intense yet vaguely-recalled images of sun, mountains, trees: the landscape a river sees on its way down to the valley.