Begin with a 20-year old box of cassette tapes that capture your old band’s rehearsals. Digitize them, and in doing so accidentally route them through “a jumble of digital filters and delays,” making the sounds overlap and layer. Consider that moment as your stepping-off point for a musical exploration of the mind’s short-term, echoic memory. Result: Echoic, 42 minutes of misty drones that, outside of the opening moments of the first track, bear no resemblance to their source materials. Very little memory of the original is left after Stephen Christopher Stamper is done manipulating the sounds. Instead, we are given a collection of hypnotic structures with a minimalist amount of shift and churn. In places they become large, dense things that take over your head by filling it with big amounts of sound. The first track, “There,” balances on the edge in this, but stays just to the passive side of aggressive. On the other hand, “Out,” the closing track, grows continuously into an overwhelming storm of near-white noise. In other places, as on “Original,” the sounds are sparse and ghostly. On that track, Stamper gives voices from the original tapes more presence, but keeps them just far enough out of aural focus to make you feel a little like you’re eavesdropping. “Bark” finds a half-buried rhythm to work into its ambient flow, but it’s so nicely downplayed it almost becomes subliminal. I like this track, but something in the way its elements come together causes there to be some borderline awkward sound drops, like rough tape edits, mostly late in the piece. It may be on purpose but it’s just enough of a bump to take me out of an otherwise deep ride.
Drone enthusiasts are going to find a lot to like on Echoic. It has a distinct dynamic, shifting constantly and patiently, and Stamper gets down to some very small detail work to add texture. As a background listen, the whispering quality of the sounds goes a long way toward quieting a space. It’s one of those works that will subtly get your attention in new places each time you listen. Loop this in headphones if you’re in the mood for a brain massage—well, until you get to that last track, which will most certainly wake you from your drone-fed reverie. This is well worth diving into and letting it flow.
Available from A Companion of Owls.