Full disclosure: This review is part personal, part actual review, and part inner eye.
After being captured, and taken, by this album late November 2014, I have listened to it somewhere between 150 and 250 times. For the mathematically savvy, you are absolutely right in your assumption that I listened to the album 1-3 times a day. Actually, except for whatever has been playing on the radio - this is the only album I have listened to for the last 100 days.
This is my 150 first days with this album.
It is without doubt one of the best albums I have ever had the chance to listen to. If I ever will be forced to go from a digital audio player with the capacity to storing thousands of albums, to a player capable of storing less than one ordinary album - this is the album that will live on that player.
It's refreshing to get to know a album following the Small & Simple variant of the K.I.S.S. principles. By small, the album consists of only one track, and by simple - the melodic cello as the driving force.
When I heard the cello(s) for the first time, it struck me that "this is me". This is my soul. This is my church. This is who I am.
Given the background of the album, I seriously doubt that it was intentional from Monty Adkins to create such an intimate piece of music. After all, the piece was made for an art installation at the IOU Theatre. Public art installations, with a lot of strangers roaming about, is not what I would call intimate by any name.
I have yet to investigate the text by Deborah Templeton, that the music is based upon. I will probably do that some day - but not for a very long time. I would really not like that my perception and imagery be torpedoed by new impulses.
The concept may seem to be simple - just a single cello playing. What we have is one single cello layered on top of itself, time after time, and again. Quite simple - however, according to my sources, the truth is more complex: The piece comprises of six interludes and six extended panels, each embodying twenty eight short melodic fragments. This is just amazing. And to continue to quote my source: Each panel uses the same fragments to form new melodies and harmonies. This is really a super complex piece of music.
This is low-key music. Your first experience with this piece must take place in a quiet environment, where you can play the music on a low volume. When you have been initiated to the exquisite sound - you are free to play it wherever you like. I have played it while moving around by rail, air and asphalt. I have played it in the forest. While debugging tough technical problems. Except for the beach - but my guess is, that this Borderlands is beach worthy.
When pressing the play button we are greeted with nearly a sacramental sound. This may be one of the few, if not the only, place where the cello is not alone. On the other hand, I suspect that Sound Artist Adkins used the cello as the basis for the starting sound. It's really intriguing.
The sacramental start morphs unconsciously into what I have coined the underbelly string due to the fact that in the bottom of the sound scape we have this one long lasting, very deep, warm, singular tone which drones on and on during the whole segment. The butterflies on top of this are really nice, but the singular tone is really making this segment stand out. A very cool thing is that it's fading away and morphs temporarily back to the sacramental start. Or is it really fading away? A conundrum, if I have ever listened to one.
This singular tone, and variants of, is intelligently spread out on the whole album.
The answer to the question "does a album like that have rhythm" is answered next. Just a few dhum-dhums done on the cello (as far as I can tell). Not particularly well hidden, as we experience elsewhere on the album - they are there. Making a huge impact, and suddenly you realize that the deep singular tone is back - but with a small change - it's not that deep anymore.
And we are now discovering a key factor with the album: It starts in the really low frequencies, and finish very high up on the melodic scale. I suspect that it is as high as the cello can go.
Further on, other layers of singular tones join the singular tone. You'll find this very prominently going on from 12:24 an onwards.
This is not very dramatic music in the traditional sense. It is not boring either - it is dramatic, but with the basis on a low-key platform.
Funny things happen at 20 minutes and four seconds into in the album. The singular, warm, deep, tone starts to oscillate.
Given the nature of this album, the casual listener, might get the impression that the album never goes anywhere. This conception is very far from the truth. Because of the variation, the album is never dull.
Fact: The human brain is very good a recognizing patterns. This is one reason why popular music is so well liked by so many people. Our brain feeds on patterns. Because of the high number of variations, it's not easy to recognize any patterns. Personally I am known in certain circles for being an excellent spotter of difficult patterns. In this piece I can recognize very few patterns. This is probably one of the main reasons why I like this album so much - and of course the singular, deep, warm tone.
Another fact, with regards to patterns in sound (music), is that when our brain recognizes a well known and well liked pattern we easily tune out the music, rather than listening closely like our brain probably did the first time we heard the tune. The music now becomes a soundtrack for whatever task we are currently doing. However, with this piece, due to lack of pattern, you end up listening without multitasking. It is refreshingly nice to actually have music that intrinsically lures you to listen intently. Highly addictive, indeed. I need to go to rehab.
I have mentioned more than once, that music I like, will make my mind wander into the strangest places. It's has always been like that for me. And then Borderlands comes along and my mind is just listening, not creating interesting worlds where I can wander around for the duration of the track, or a whole album. This is a new thing for me. It's really a testament to how exquisite this album is.
The closest I have come to any imagery is a, dry and barren landscape in the early autumn. Warm, but crisp air, high up in the mountains. Everything is yellow, and dead or dying. Cloudy.
The boring facts
- Audiobulb rules.
- Monty Adkins is a sound artist based in the North of England.
- Borderlands was recorded by cellist William Mace whose sensuous tone gives the album a resonant warmth.
- This audio single has the playing length of 37 minutes and 45 seconds.