Thomas Shrubsole – Themes and Variations

Themes and Variations is the first release on Parenthetical Activities, a sub-label of Dissolving which concentrates on experimentation and documentation, recording and amplifying the moments that live ‘in the spaces between the parentheses’.

Thomas Shrubsole’s double cassette promises two hours of experimental discourse and intriguing, unrestricted dialogue, is limited to 85 stamped and numbered copies, and includes twelve intuitive acoustic sound-works which are loosely tied together.

Recorded over two years, the diverse and eclectic music is written in a nonlinear language of obtuse, curious shapes and fine, angled lines which, as they gel together, create wandering, off-beat sentences and a range of exotic air-hieroglyphics. The dash-dot-dash percussion and the uninhibited, baggy-clothed melody, atypical of dark, late-summer jazz, reclines in the prime time of its intoxicated youth, while quieter interludes, some straddling the borders of total silence, occupy the gaps between music’s accepted and popular lines.

Shrubsole invites us to look beyond, to realise that there are no strict beginnings, middles, or endings in music – music is just edited to either begin or fade out at certain points, until the end of its allocated duration. It still sings in the silence; we just can’t pick up its frequencies. Those lines are imaginary, made up because of our inherent need to organise and categorize. The same is true of genres, or the concept of a nation, or the invisible dividing line which separates one country from another; the borders always contested, the soldiers fighting over a plot of land when one side looks just the same as the other. Shrubsole’s audio exploring takes him into no-man’s-land, venturing into the beyond, transcending what we think is possible, breaking barriers and smashing self-conceived and self-restricting borders.

They’re ‘studies for alternative instrumental connections’; things that don’t quite fit into the main body of music’s text. Things that live on the outside of the exchange. And the music’s so much richer for its thorough adventuring.

This is a mammoth work and a massive undertaking. Altered states are born out of the music’s intricate patterns, and an army of semi-colons, with their brief percussive codes, litter the stave. Shrubsole’s music as Sub Loam has been featured here before, and his approach to music is a freeing thing. For even though the music can at times feel unstructured, the eternal paradox is that there is a structure of sorts, sitting underneath the surface of sound like the lost city of Atlantis.

The architecture of the music is submerged, making it trickier to see. Never does it become a gelatinous mess. Boneless patterns appear in less than obvious places, but the soft, swaying drums and the piano’s gentle repetitions and arpeggios reveal the starkly-lit, underground-dwelling structure. It can also be glimpsed in the inner workings of a staccato-blitzed, blip-bleep rhythm. Structure arises out of accidental clashes, out of incidents, out of the creation of music. As soon as Themes and Variations begins to play, the chances of an accidental collision multiply, an accidental returning to structured music when it had initially begun its life with no real predestination.

The limited edition comes with two white, stamped cassettes, and a self-locking card box. That box also contains three posters, a twelve-page booklet, and a postcard avec download code.

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