Daniel WJ Mackenzie, Return Written Arrange

Joe Evans’ Runningonair label is in the middle of churning out some very interesting and often challenging releases that, while they may not be easily accessible, have a deep (and often mathematical) back-story to them. There’s something about knowing that back-story that  has helped me find entry into discs that might otherwise fall outside my comfortable listening parameters. (See my review of Guy Birkin’s Symmetry-Breaking.) This leads us to Return Written Arrange by Daniel WJ Mackenize. While I hate to resort to cutting and pasting PR material as part of a review, I think you need to follow along with this: “The core of Return Written Arrange uses input from a variety of musicians who were asked to provide sound recordings of their choice from a selection of musical pitches and durations of Mackenzie’s own design. These were arranged in the order of when they were sent back and the resulting sequence was duplicated in a way that corresponded with the Fibonacci sequence, subjected to minimal production and compositional enhancements and left as semi-aleatoric pieces, as much constructed by chance and choice as they are bound by the rigidity of the sequence.” Still with us? Okay. This concept accounts for two of the six tracks on this 40-minute outing. The first is the shorter of the two, but Mackenize maximized the effect of his equation quickly. You can hear the elements layer themselves in, rapidly building to create a strange, slightly unnerving atmosphere. A woman’s voice recites a repeating list of words in a halting cadence, just echoed enough to give it an otherwordly feel. The components range from staticky crackles to high chimes. The whole thing feels like the soundtrack for a performance art piece. The visuals will undoubtedly create themselves in your head. The second installment is the longer/longest on the disc, taking up 16 of the overall 40 minutes. It begins like a dirge, somber tones in yawning chords, smaller elements glistening at the edges. It feels less “chancy” than the first part, and benefits from its structured tone. This one, too, rises to an impressive density of sound, a dark monolith carved in compelling tones. It has a very pensive feel, less unnerving than the first but no less deep, emotionally. Arranged around these two pieces are shorter, piano-based improvisations and experiments where the keys wrestle for space with barbed electronics. These pieces have a more frenetic feel, as if they’re trying to say as much as possible in the short time they’re allotted.

Overall, Return Written Arrange dances on the border of the experimental. Listeners who like their music straightforward might be put off, but the effort of taking a deep and understanding listen, especially knowing the equations at work in the background, pays off in a unique experience.

Available from Runningonair.

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