Leo Abrahams & Shahzad Ismaily – Visitations

Visitations unites Leo Abrahams and Shahzad Ismaily, two multi-instrumentalists in pursuit of experimental guitar music. The manifestations are ice-clear, striking a poised balance between dissonance and harmony, their opposing forces of yin and yang retaining both interest and musicality.

Sour notes ring out from time to time, but interspersing them are bolder slivers of light. The discordant sound is immediately obvious, but other, more harmonious notes soon take over, at first covering and then replacing the rebel note with a brighter (and more stable) colour, taking its place by folding itself over the jarring one. There’s no evidence of social distancing. Notes are clustered tightly together, and no one is there to enforce anything. Brighter tones resolve the dissonance, putting the listener back in a comfortable place…if only for a short breather.

Experimental music can still be structured, and the repeating phrases make an underlying structure seem real and viable. But if a structure is to be found within Visitations, it’s one on the brink of collapse, waiting to topple over thanks to the unpredictable behaviour of its brothers and sisters. Repetitive sequences provide a hook for the listener, but the music remains scrawled in a graffiti of dissonance.

The clashing tones bring some uncertainty, but they also add to the record’s intrigue and excitement. Although the repeating, cycling notes seem to suggest some form, the form itself is gelatinous, wobbling all over the place. For instance, in ‘Ono No Imoko’, the notes scramble around with a burst of freneticism, colliding, scratching at the plectrum, the abrasive sound of the strings and the leftover debris of string noise left to ring out, intentionally leaning into and exploring the sound of what other guitarists may call ‘sloppy’ playing – only this is 100% intentional, with the purpose of producing new, original results.

The two musicians employ these fragmented sounds and use them as musical devices, bringing them into the forefront and almost celebrating their rougher sounds when, in many other cases, they would intentionally be hidden, edited over and then deleted; unwanted creations, thought of as ‘blemishes’, when they are, in reality, sounds and vibrations, too.

Guitarists are taught at an early age to mute strings that aren’t in use, so that the string noise is limited and minimal, but here it’s integral to the sound. Dimples of radiance trace the contours of an up-and-down, rough-and-smooth topography. And when those pockets of light shine through, like on the closer ‘Seventh Avenue Line’, an air of peace graces the music. The notes are playful, their hypnotic improvisations going into sleep mode, and the recurring bass provides a darker transcendence. In Visitations, both dissonance and harmony are equals.


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