Dusty sounds made luminous
Portland composer Ethan Rose is a sound scavenger, searching for antiquated music-making machines like carillons, player pianos and music boxes and incorporating their accidental squeaks and groans, as much as their intentional sounds, into his pieces. He works by subtraction, taking source material as conventional as a player piano’s “Happy Birthday”. All this is means to an end, however. The end in question are heart-breakingly beautiful landscapes that you don’t so much listen to as immerse yourself in, the light filtering through their liquid textures as you forget to breath. Last year, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche named Rose’s Ceiling Songs “numbingly beautiful” and his favorite album of 2006. Spinning Pieces collects three long pieces, composed over the last five years into a single disc. The first, “Singing Tower”, layers the bright sustained notes, the twinkle of chimes of a carillon with metallic scraps and clock-like tickings. It doesn’t sound like a carillon, really, more an abstraction of mallet on metal subsumed in oceanic washes of hiss and distortion. “The Dot and the Line” is just as lovely, and somewhat more recognizable, building its dreamlike textures from the notes found on player pianos. The notes, though, sit alongside obscure squeaks and moans, a swishing, breathing sound washing over, as if the cut had caught some strange, half mechanical beast in the midst of deep slumber. “Miniature and Sea” is sourced from music boxes, but again, you’d need the notes to identify them. This cut is more rhythmic, more abrasive than what’s come before, but just as lovely. The paradox is that Rose has taken mechanically-derived sounds and made them warmer, more organic and more human and simple voice or instrument.
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