Let me start by confessing that I tried reading Joe Evans’ explanation of what’s going on in Elemental States, and it got a little music theory-ish for this simple reviewer. He notes that he’s interested in “…the idea that intervals based on the same prime number may have similar characteristics in the way that they are interpreted by the mind. For example 5ths, 4ths and 9ths sound similar, having a structural or even an architectural quality and all share 3 as a common factor.” Still with us? Okay, then you may be ready to dig in to this blend of sounds created with metal or glass household objects, paired with field recordings made over the last 30 years, fitted into this mathematical framework. From my earlier encounters with Evans when he was recording as Runningonair, I’ve understood that he always comes at the work from a mathematical/theoretical side, then uses his findings to create something both challenging and listenable. On Elemental States, I wonder how well he’s hit that second mark. It’s challenging, but for me, not entirely listenable. Relying heavily on soft chime tones and field recordings, the work does take on a drone-like quality. But, as on “Water – 5- Liquid,” which has the chimes and, as one might guess, the sound of a running stream, it also becomes a bit too repetitive. For me it feels like from a the standpoint of supporting Evans’ theorem it’s probably going well, but I can’t escape the thought that I’m listening to my garden wind chimes. It doesn’t abate as the album moves into “Air – 3 – Gas”; instead, it trades the water sounds for a rush of wind that I initially mistook for some kind of quieted-down industrial clamor. “Aether – 11 – Virtual” works best for me. It’s the one track here created “synthetically” as opposed to using those analog household sources. It is a quiet, humming ambient piece that warbles slightly to create a warm and misty flow. Ripples in the flow rise up as it goes, the agitated curl of an electronic wave. It may very well f0llow the same path of repetition as its kin, but it may be that whereas it’s already a drone as opposed to a more organic tone, the pattern becomes less obvious.
For me as a listener, Elemental States seems like a place where the idea outweighs the practicality. I have no doubt that people accustomed to higher musical thinking, folks who wonder about intervals based on prime numbers, may find their way deeper into it. A more casual listener will need to be attuned to slow-moving drone styles, and plenty of chimes.
Available from Runningonair.