Thursday, February 5, 2009
One of the first CDs that arrived in 2009 was from the Ohio label Infraction, a collaboration between two Russian musicians called No Traces. Alexander Ananyev records here as Sleepy Town Manufacture (he also has a couple of Infraction releases as Beautumn), and he pairs here with Stanislav Vdovin, recording here as Unit 21.
One difference between No Traces and the Beautumn albums is that the former is a continuous piece of music, whereas the Beautumn tracks are separate from each other. Although No Traces has tracks and titles, the connecting material is so strong that the listener has the impression of a single piece. Another difference is the presence of extended samples, more like quotations. The first track, Athena, includes a wordless female vocal line singing a melodic fragment that wouldn't be out of place in a hippy beach epic, and the second track, Blooming Woods, does the same with a flute. Solitude has some dialogue, probably in Russian or at least, not a language I recognize.
But these aspects pale next to the most striking element of this album: massive amounts of vinyl noise. It is considerably more prominent here than in turntable artists like Philip Jeck, more comparable to the bruitiste approach of Martin Tétreault, who cut records apart and glued pieces of different ones back together. The scratches open up a world of contradictions, whose play generates a sense of wonder about the project as a whole. Ananyev has used scratches before, most significantly on the long Beautumn track Blanket, released on the Top 40 netlabel in 2004 and reissued as a limited bonus disc with the Infraction release Northing in 2006. But where the crackling on Blanket is fairly chaotic, perhaps like a fire or rain drops, No Traces uses vinyl unabashedly. It appears in a loop, like vinyl; the scratches aren't clean, but have that unique vinyl crunch that comes from really dirty records. But No Traces was only released on compact disc, a format touted for its pristine sound (and the vinyl noise here is rendered in stark, crisp detail). And the title, No Traces, is completely incorrect for the highly audible traces of worn-out grooves, neglect and decay that pervades the album. The lavish artwork reflects this general decomposition. In addition to the cover photos, five cardboard prints on heavy chipboard stock all in various shades of brown, macro photographs of empty rooms: baseboards on the cover, a floor corner littered with plaster chips, other photographs so washed out as to be unrecognizable.
Behind all this detritus is gorgeous, slow ambience, sometimes melodic, sometimes nearly static, sometimes with little percussive embellishments. Gentle throbbing drones struggle to escape the crackling. Deep chordal bell sounds combine with loops, perhaps nighttime field recordings to create a subdued ethereal atmosphere. But the crackling is an integral part of the music, synchronized to the extent that I would check for skips if it was an LP. The overall effect is a bit disconcerting, a slight unease between the ambient music and the sounds of decay, an effect often achieved in more subterranean releases, and all the more welcome here for the uniqueness of the total.