Josh Mason’s L+ marks the second to last release for the Dauw label for 2018. In the ‘About’ section of his website, Mason talks about working ‘ in different processing environments’ and although he is talking about the tools to make the sounds, Mason’s compositions in L+ do feel like he is creating environments for his melodies to inhabit.
L+ opens into existence with a modulated sound, slowly undulating. Quickly from that single sound branches off three or four strands of sound that are then drawn back into it, to be re-immersed. But that core sound that brought the piece still lives on, underneath it all. And this is where the notion of creating audio environments is a useful lens to view L+’s compositions – it’s as if Mason is defining the piece of land or territory where his sonic strands will live. And this is one of the repeated techniques on L+: most pieces start with a sound that remains the foundation for the duration of the piece.
Also typical of L+ is those sonic/musical strands that exist on or against the backdrop of sonic land that Mason creates for each composition. They often present themselves as glitches – microcosms of sound – that simply burst into existence and move along. None of those strands of sound really comes together, but nothing really runs counter to any of the other sounds at play. It’s as if Mason sends his players in motion but bounds them – they can go where they may and interact as they will, but they all exist within a sort of fenced-in confines. And the real magic is in the way those strands overlay or inhabit the space of that core sound upon which they exist.
Across the 6 pieces of L+ Mason plays with that formula and, interestingly, L+ almost becomes more minimal as it proceeds. It’s as if by slowing things down, yes, things sound a little glitchier and we are closer to the mechanics of the compositions, and still, somehow, they become more immersive. In some cases, the composition’s move so slow, those strands of sound almost literally sound like electricity moving across a a wire.
Of the album Mason writes:
“I had seneca’s letters on ethics and epictetus’ enchiridion right next to me. as i considered the choices i was making with the sounds you hear, i was also pausing to have a think on the things i was reading. each track corresponds with some maxim found in either copy i had of each book (ie S26 = seneca, pg. 26.) the first piece and last piece are based on a two part axiom, and so both pieces are connected sonically in some ways, as two ends of a piece of tape might be spliced together.”
Ambient/minimal electronic music as philosophy is interesting territory because there is something to be said for the broad philosophy that ambient music asks us to slow down in an ever quickening world. But what Mason is talking about is a bit different, in that he is taking the treatises and tracts of other thinkers and basing his sounds around their ideas to create sound explorations or meditations of their philosophies and put those ideas into sonic motion.
My first note when starting to write my review of L+ was to write “ Can an album be welcoming without first being inviting?”. The coarse aspects of those glitchy components seemed, objectively speaking, abrasive – even against their seemingly subdued backdrops. But, once immersed, everything about L+ feels full and, yes, inviting even. In the world of L+ sounds pop, crackle, hiss, undulate, vibrate, wave, disintegrate, flicker, and feel sometimes random, but there is no entropy – there are entire worlds at play in each composition. L+ is a sublime collection of minimal electronic music that nicely wraps up 2018.