Three sets of live improvisations are served up on Astral Bridges, from collaborators Onewayness (Adam Holquist) and Modulator_ESP (Jez Creek). The term they use for this is “merged sets.” One artist opens each piece, playing solo. The other joins in for a stretch somewhere along the line and they perform as a duet, then the first artist slips out to let the second finish the piece. The music was recorded during four live performances in the fall of 2014. Holquist then compiled and edited the live songs to create these three tracks, which are gently massaged together to create an hour-long set. And believe me, it runs deep. I looked at my iTunes a while into my review listens and saw that I had rolled through this disc more than 10 times–and each time, I was glad to head into it again. If you’re not into a dark feel, the beginning of “Bridge_1” may put you off, which would be a shame. The hard-edged electro-snarls, industrial touches, and serpentine utterances that fill the first few minutes give way to softer pads and a broader, spacier dimension. As the sound spreads out, you take in more of the small detail work that shows throughout this release. Piano and field recording make in interesting incursion into the flow, just one of many sonic surprises in store. After 2o excellent minutes, we are ushered into “Bridge_2,” which is probably my favorite of the three. From the start we are welcomed into what’s pretty much a Berlin School homage. Square-angled sequencer forms immediately build around us, and in time we are given that ever-present flute-like sound to carry a melody. The sequencer has that slightly distorted sound at the edges that makes it feel so sci-fi, and the whole thing is rounded out with absolutely classic choral pads. This is pure 70s electro-goodness, and I fucking love it. When the changeover comes on this one, we shift from that Berlin tone to more of an early analog sound, a desperate Morse Code of rapid tones in a hurried, hypnotic rush. What doesn’t work for me here, and the only thing, really, is that late in the track I get jolted out of my reverie by an assault from big metallic clatters, like someone hammering on a muted gong. As many times as I’ve listened to the track, I know that the sound is foreshadowed early on, but when it gets more aggressively present later…well, as much as I’ve come to accept its presence, let’s call it my least favorite few minutes here. Feels a bit too “let’s get experimental” for me. “Bridge_3” bring us back to those shadowy places full of skittering sounds, but again opens up. The round tones of an electric piano show up, along with a melody on a flute analogue. Bright sequencer lines return as well, trading space with chimes, and over time the piece winds down to a dark and quiet place with a feel approaching stillness. Small sounds outline slow-moving chords to create the sensation of a somewhat uncomfortable dream. It fades out on a rising note, reaching for something you won’t get to before you wake.
Astral Bridges seems to offer something new to hear each time through. The chemistry between Creek and Holquist is seamless, and it shows in how smoothly the changeovers are handled. The only way to tell one artist’s contribution from the other is that, if I am guessing correctly, Creek’s work tends to involve the darker, harder sounds, with Holquist’s offerings tending more toward the ambient and melodic. Even at that, with the exception noted above, no new sound or idea is at all jarring to the flow. The pieces evolve logically and beautifully, and in each long stretch we get a solid array of tone and sensation. There is darkness and energy and contemplation and the sense of discovery as new sounds find birth. An excellent set of rich electronic music from two very talented collaborators.
Available from Ethereal Live.