e and i – The Colour of Sound
” Ever since I was a child numbers and colors went side by side… I saw a number and it was transformed into an undulating pulsating hue of shimmering beauty… It was an immediate emotional appearance, one that I could not control or explain. Gradually the same became of music… Sounds as pieces began to shape into waves of colors, moving as waves in the sea. Sounds overlapping, shades of colors… All in my mind… I could not explain them, nor describe them… All I knew was to feel them and try to nurture them.. As they became the aura that surrounded the connection between music and my feelings… They only appeared when the music was intimate, small, shy and reclusive, when the music grew out of a place I could not control nor understand, when the music became my voice or when it blossomed in friendship…” (e).
The words above come from the liner notes from The Colour of Sound, the latest album from e and i, the duo of Emmanuel Witzthum and Crag Tattersall. As Witzthum describes, the root of the album’s title is linked to the very theme that motivates the music therein. Specifically, the theme is based on Witzthum’s own experience of numbers and music as colours – a way of experiencing what took hold of him at a formative age and has never ceased. It’s an abstract starting point and Witzthum’s own words on the theme struggle to orient the meaning of it all, thus, it reads as an almost stream of consciousness statement. But what those words struggle to express, the music is able to explore without the constraints of the spoken word.
Sonically, The Colour of Sound is a different record compared to any of its predecessors from the duo. The album is divided into a mix of longer and shorter pieces – there are 4 songs that are less than 8.5 minutes and 3 pieces that cross the 20-minute mark. For the most part, this is the most minimalist release yet from the duo, essentially downscaling from minimalism to a barely-there quality. Many of the pieces are languid and exploratory, but tend to build to a crescendo of sorts. It’s a record as much defined by its silences as it is by its musical moments.
And to return to Witzthum’s words, this perhaps is how that theme of colour/sound is represented musically. Each of the pieces on the album is titled with a series of numbers and linked to a simple dot with a colour/colours in it. Many of the dots are filled with a gradient of colours rather than single shade of a specific colour. Both ‘35’ and ‘1161’, for example, are based around this sort of gradient schematic. It’s analogous to seeing the blue of an ocean or a blade of grass at a different time of day where the light hitting it causes small, almost imperceptible-in-real-time changes to the shade of the colour. And this is where the analogy between the nature of the music and the album’s theme come into play: it’s as if the duo take a melody or phrase and de-construct/re-construct/modify it, all the while continuing to gently re-contextualize the sounds so that they become almost new with each repetition. The effect is that each phrase or melody is almost being heard in a slightly different diffusion of light, slowly changing each time the listener experiences it.
Strictly speaking of the music – it’s lovely stuff, as per usual from these two. To trace the trajectory of Tatersall’s own work in his own Humble Bee guise, the move to an even more minimal sound as heard on last year’s Deathless Songs seems consistent with his approach here. Tape loops were often more prominent on previous e and i releases, here they are used in more subtle ways. As a result, Witzthum’s strings are left to shine and most of the sounds at play seem to spin out from his playing as the source material (or at least the driving element) for almost every composition. The overall result is a subtle, understated album that is deeply meditative and provides consistently enchanting listening material.
To return to Witzthum’s words on his own experience of colour/numbers/sound – it might seem to imply an almost synesthesia-like quality where the auditory experience of music is experienced by the separate neurological pathways linked to visual sensory input. However, it’s one thing to label an aspect of the human condition and a complete other to task yourself to try and induce a similar experience in an audience. Not knowing the connection between the theme of the album and the music itself wouldn’t necessarily diminish the listening experience, but understanding the connection between the two does lend a further immersive quality when hearing the album. The album also marks the first release for e and i on Eilean Records, who further cement their status as one of the finest and most consistent labels releasing minimalist electronic music right now. The Colour of Sound is another in a long string of strong releases for Eilean and a lovely evolution for the duo of e and i.