Broken Harbour, Gramophone Transmissions

Edge-of-dusk drones built out of samples from old vinyl records and loops from mellotron, piano and more skulk their way through the bleak landscape of Gramophone Transmissions, the second release from Canadian artist Broken Harbour (aka Blake Gibson). The inside cover notes that “headphones and closed eyes provide the ideal listening environment for this recording.” I’d have to agree. As Gibson moves from slightly melodic–or perhaps melody-assisted is the right word–to sparse, near-isolationist drone-spaces, you’ll want to take in as much as you can. Atmosphere and sonic texture are in full force here, dragging visceral reactions from you. In the opening track, “Drift,” mournful string sounds rasp a funereal cadence  as light piano notes sprinkle across the frame. It’s about as light as the disc gets before Gibson starts to spiral down to bleaker zones. The two parts of the “The Ballad of Dave Bowman” make sure you understand that we’re done with anything but drone. The first is a stripped-down soundfield crackling with the static of a wayward transmission; the second builds off a drone with a pipe-organ feel, a steady, mildly swirling wash of sound that seems to pick up intensity as it curls around you. They’re both chock full of activity compared to “Titan.” This  is probably the starkest track on the disc. It reaches a very minimal point where the pads thin out and weaken and stretches of near-silence, where just a vinyl crackle fills the space, take over. The emptiness of it is quite affecting. Here, like nowhere else on the disc, Gibson conveys the sense that you are quite alone in this place. In “Dark Clouds Gathering in the West” Gibson hangs a pall of sound, a wavering expanse of pure grey, then layers it with eerie vocal wails. This track just gets more unsettling as it moves along–and there’s 12 minutes of it to get through. Gibson moves firmly into dark ambient territory with “Maelstrom (The Descent).” Here he just industrially grinds his way into your skull for over 15 minutes, overwhelming you with the sheer density of sound. It’s actually a fairly dynamic piece; for all its skull-corroding abrasiveness, it’s also got a fair degree of motion, albeit tectonic in speed. The disc closes with “Unforeseen Consequences,” where Gibson switches back to less edgy pads and drones. The tone is still shadowy and uncertain, but the feel is somewhat calmer. By disc’s end you haven’t left Gibson’s desolate musical homeland; you’ve just crossed it, ready, perhaps to go again. Gramophone Transmissions will definitely appeal to the dark ambient crowd and will likely work well for those who appreciate drone–but anyone into beatless, atmospheric wanderings should have a go as well. An excellent new release from a strong dark talent.

Available from the Broken Harbour web site.

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