Thick tangles of guitar-based drones get mixed with distant touches of acoustic instrumentation on Aquarelle’s new release, August Undone. Sound artist Ryan Potts offers five pieces of varying density, all with a strong dynamic sense. The equation gets established straight away with “Within/Without” as piano notes push against a solid, hissing wall of noise, setting up a contrasting tone that gains ground to take the lead. The shift is handled so smoothly, you barely notice the hiss’ recession until it’s gone. From there, Potts lifts up the remnant sounds, giving them something of a pipe-organ grandeur as they push the piece to its close. As an opening track, this does a fine job of telling you what the artist has to offer and that, start of the track notwithstanding, this is not just a noise/drone work. The message comes through clearly again in “Sandpaper Winds,” with folksy acoustic guitar grounding the grittier sounds behind it. “This Is No Monument,” the longest track here at nearly 12 minutes, takes a minimalist approach, repeating phrases varying just slightly across time as the layers build. Around the 4-minute mark, Potts dials things down a touch and delivers us into a sort of meditative space, echoing piano finding a gently hypnotic pulse that flattens to a drone and then works its way back up. This is one of those pieces that you need to dive into ears-first to take in Potts’ subtle manipulations. There is a lot of harmonic work going on, so pay attention.
August Undone has grown on me as I have delved more deeply into it. Working past the noise, which I don’t mind at all, and focusing on the additional dimensions Potts works into his pieces reveals the considerable scope of thought behind it all. Even where he hits us with nearly crushing levels of static-thick noise–and I’m looking at you, “Clockless Hours”–when your ear and mind latch onto the motion and harmony at play and the strong contrast work, the depth belies the apparent simplicity of the noise genre. By modulating his sounds to give balance between approachable and inapproachable, Potts delivers a work that requires your attention.
Available from Students of Decay.