The overcast music of The Great Lake Swallows has been obscured by darkness. Left to its own devices, its clouds hover over a sleek and silver lake of sound, although it’s doubtful as to whether this darkness emanates from the deep groans of the cello or through the record’s tear-streaked, ethereal, and transient nature. The cello coils around the music, branching off into additional layers that entangle and echo around a set of subtle, sparse field recordings and background atmospheres made smooth against the cello’s slightly abrasive and tree-rubbed textures. Gently undulating, looping and then loosely forming, the repetitive strands help the music to stand up, providing a solid framework for the cello’s wildlife-meanderings and cool pursuits.
The Great Lake Swallows teams up Canadian cellist Julia Kent with Belgian guitarist and tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. Recorded in 2015 in Charleroi, Belgium as part of a video installation project with Sandrine Verstraete, The Great Lake Swallows uses field recordings, processed guitar, and cello to create voids of echoing sadness, eternal gulfs, and irreparable rifts in time. The cello sways in a dream-like state, though its various aches and pains are real enough. You can feel the deep ache, not in the bones but in the soul, increasing with every sweep of the bow; a tearing of emotional muscle and sinew. The site of the wound is revealed through the cello’s repetitions, which throb and pulse in regular waves, upsetting the calm of its sea and locating the source of the pain as a cut that won’t heal. Instead of being an innocent victim, the cello is an active participator in the music’s sensations of gut-ache and regret; you can rewind a tape, but you can’t rewind an experience. The music stabs directly into the heart, going through with its subtle acts of violence even as its beautiful sound continues, and doing so in a way that befriends the listener before its act of betrayal. Darkness swirls around the lower register of the cello, and its mist conceals its true nature. The eyes can never truly settle on its form or shape. It flickers and dances around the edges, a cloud of grey soot mingling with drops of cold dew.
The ambient nature of the music hides both beauty and undiagnosed horror in its swirling repetitions, bringing about hypnotic levels of calm and lingering unease – seduction before a prearranged strike, words of encouragement before the stab in the back, kisses before the betrayal. There are darker levels to The Great Lake Swallows. Those dreams sour and darken. The music rises in power, becoming a raging, vengeful thing. During the coda, screams begin to seep through and its dream-world becomes tainted, infected by a sick orchid. Each piece flows and trickles into the next movement, setting up and developing crucial moments – repetitious circles – inside its black mass. Although it’s meant to be listened to in one sitting, its continuity is capable of binding and dividing. An endless tug-of-war ensures a battle between the notes, some wishing to go one way while the rest pull in the other direction. Being outnumbered, they can only bow to that unwanted fate. Their destiny is inescapable; the great lake swallows.