With the advent of Poiesis, Isnaj Dui (flautist Katie English) returns, and this time around, English places more of an emphasis on the electronic – on textures which have been shaped by Earth’s uncertain current events – although the flute is still very much a central figure. It’s still serene and it’s just as lovely as it’s always been, but it’s taken more than a knock in recent years. It spins and swoons, in tune with the dissonant times and thus appearing to be thoroughly out of tune with the natural order of things, of normality and accepted truths. Brexit and The Rise of Trump are both unthinkable horrors, but the artistic response has been encouraging – more than that, this is musically fertile soil. Somewhere along the line things got fucked up pretty badly, and now we’re reaping it. The music is strained – even the flute, which usually breathes and flows with such a still utterance of gentle air – is swept up in the dizzying carousel.
Early on in the record, the echoing punch of a dull, throbbing beat represents the somewhat ill state of not only the nation but of the world in general. Something has fractured the flute – mentally instead of tonally, in its phrasing and not in its sweet, pacifying timbre – causing it to question and rebel. To a degree, English’s expressionistic music hasn’t lost much in the way of overall coherency, because the flute’s melodies weave everything together like a thin thread of wool passing through a needle, but the dusty loops and the skittering, alternative textures are enough to leave an uneasy taste, and they seem more haphazard than usual…the tip of that needle is like the jagged peak of a mountain.
Like some kind of numbing poison that could be mistaken for a brief moment of pleasure, the calm is soothing, but something’s not quite right… deeper down, something is slowly killing it.
But Poiesis is an eccentric album, moving away from the deep, enchanted forestry of her ambient past and into the stark, snowy woods of experimentation, with no map or plan sitting in the backpack – much like Brexit itself. If you wander alone out here for too long, wolves will start to gather. The loops cycle and cut out midway, especially on ‘Blind Spot’, where the music revolves and goes one way and then the other, entwined in the branches and at one with the watching trees, whose bodies are blackened and damp to the roots. It’s lost in the woods, Blair Witch style, becoming a panicky mess and then just giving up the ghost completely, cutting out in mid-sentence as if collapsing and succumbing to its horror-film ending.
The flute’s still capable of soothing, but it won’t be today – today, the flute is fraught with worry, trying in vain to process a load of incomprehensible information. Saying that, Poiesis retains a playful (if anxious) side, thanks largely to its experimental leanings. Singing bowls are treated and are then left to ring out, perfuming the ether. The stacked, elasticated rhythms are lively things… but are they energetic, or are they just thoroughly stressed out? Their staccato, highly-strung nature hints at the latter. Sometimes, it feels as though the flute has gone missing on its strange, labyrinthine walkabout, displaced by an alternative world which has somehow forced its way into the accepted workings of reality, where nothing is as it seems and where nothing will ever be the same again.