Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Alexandr Vatagin - Shards (2008, Valeot)

The first time I heard of Alexandr Vatagin was through his work in the Austrian band Tupolev, whose album, Memories Of Björn Bolssen, I reviewed favourably.

Here Alexandr presents his second solo release, a short album (a mini-album, or even an EP). A toned down album, quite quiet, but filled with noises, sounds, a mélange of intricate beeps and squeaks, street sound sampling and him playing on various instruments. The result is a surreal journey, a soundtrack of sorts, that has a variety of effects, such as creep you out (third track, “As we cross the cherrytrees”), mellow you down (track 4, “Like shards of broken glass”), but always in need of a vigilant and attentive ears. While “ambient” can encompass the various sounds played here, it does not get to the heart of the matter. One needs to appreciate the subtlety of slowness, quietness and motionless soundscaping; to embrace a world where sounds float by but going nowhere in particular, notes are played but serve as mood setters, sounds are sampled and used to create ambience.

Alexandr cites Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, Fennesz and Arvo Pärt among some of his influences. Indeed the style and flow of this composers and musicians indeed comes through the music here, or rather through the atmosphere and tones that are the core of Alexandr’s music.

Alexandr mingles recordings of the outside world with his playing of the cello, bass and vibraphone; the result is well mixed. But I would love to hear more adventurism, more gut approach, more daring with the samples he plays as his canvas to play on. His playing is subtle, which works very well with the nature of the overall ambience created. But I’d love to hear more of himself in the final result, meaning more of his playing. The balance is good, but the dosage could be higher.

He does, however, do a great job of making spooky or odd musical environments. The first track alone is testimony to his ability to do just that.

I can’t recommend this to anyone but those who are into this sort of sound sculpting. I do think it’s worth a try if you’ve never tried it, just be open and attentive. Listen late at night when no one’s around on headphones.

For those who appreciate electro-acoustic music, eerie soundtracks and any musician or band mentioned above, I’d definitely recommend having a listen.

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