Julianna Barwick – Circumstance Synthesis

Julianna Barwick’s Circumstance Synthesis covers a single day. ‘Taking the shape of a day from a celestial vantage’, her latest album includes morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night, and all present unique musical opportunities. Over these five tracks, her vocal arrangements change and transform, in sync with the cycling of the day and the transit of the Earth, their differing moods and energies lifting and dragging depending on the time of day. As such, opening track ‘Morning’ is just waking up. A stream of golden light pours in. Her vocal is intentionally weaker and slimmer, going through the throes between sleep and consciousness. Eyes are bleary; so is the music.

Circumstance Synthesis originated as an ‘environmentally responsive soundtrack’. Commissioned by Sister City, a new kid on the block that neighbours RVNG Intl’s physical record store Commend in downtown Manhattan (Lower East Side), Barwick’s generative music technology identified activity in the NYC sky thanks to a camera which sat atop Sister City’s hotel’s rooftop, triggering Barwick’s musical progressions. Powered by Microsoft AI, her score enveloped Sister City’s lobby space, feeding back into Manhattan.

The deep blue of day in all its power is present in the wide-awake and caffeinated ‘Noon’, and her music drifts into the indigo and orange and pink of a summer evening, bathing in a failing-yet-beautiful glow of sunset. The generative music allows for flexibility and spontaneity, resulting in an album of gentle flow and natural grace. These qualities have always been present in her music, and she’s tuned into them once again. Barwick’s music encourages listeners to look up instead of down, taking a time-out to lift heads and raise eyes to the glory of the natural world. Even in the concrete jungle of a metropolis such as New York City, one can feel the presence of nature (Central Park being just one example). Barwick’s vocals are as lush as ever, and her voice carries a tonality which refreshes and relaxes even in its urban environment. Covered in a trailing reverb, her vocals are a part of the air; elemental sighs.

The strobing sounds of evening contain glowing colours, and as the daylight fades, the music loses its body heat. It grows cooler and eventually leads to the sparser, quieter night. Only a handful of notes illuminate this track, a cluster of lights in a sleeping neighbourhood. Her voice is able to radiate just as much light and beauty as the gathering stars.


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