Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann
Photo: greyfade

Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann Create a Stunning Experimental Soundscape

The sophomore collaboration from experimental musicians Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann comes four years after their debut, and builds on it.

Joseph Branciforte and Theo Bleckmann
8 December 2023

Joseph Branciforte is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, and Grammy award-winning recording engineer whose label, greyfade, was started in 2019 with LP1, his collaboration with vocalist Theo Bleckmann. Since that much-lauded experimental release, Branciforte has released five more albums on the label, including the latest, LP2, in which he is reunited with Bleckmann in a collection of sounds that are even more sophisticated and complex.

On LP2, Branciforte plays Fender Rhodes, modular synthesizer, Max/MSP (a visual programming language for multimedia), Korg MS20, and vibraphone, while Bleckmann is credited with vocals and electronics. This mix of human voice and analog and digital instrumentation has a lot to do with the unique results the two musicians can conjure up on this mysterious, engaging, and mesmerizing album. Calling the music “ambient” almost seems like a copout, not to mention that it lessens the music’s impact. Ambient can sometimes be code for “background” music (although that in itself is a gross generalization as much ambient music is far too compelling to dismiss), and it’s far too easy to be lost in LP2’s deeply felt music to dismiss it as something to play as aural window dressing.

While LP1 was recorded spontaneously with little post-production, LP2 was approached differently. According to Bleckmann in the album’s press materials, “This time, in addition to free improvisation, each of us brought in a few prompts or scenes.” This could be anything from a verbal description, textural seed, or more concretely composed material. Additionally, studio overdubbing was allowed this time, giving the songs more texture.

The tracks are all assigned numeric titles, beginning with “1.13”, which was the recording of a studio soundcheck, a level test, during the sessions for LP1. Branciforte and Bleckmann loved the piece, but it didn’t fit within the album’s sequence, so it was saved for future use, underscoring the concept of a long gestation period between releases. The heavy, spacey atmosphere of the synths and effects blend perfectly with Bleckmann’s ethereal voice, creating a heavily sustained, sci-fi soundscape.

Living among the longer tracks are shorter, interlude-length pieces such as “10.11.5”, in which Bleckmann’s seductive vocalizing is paired with jittery, static noises, once again showcasing the fascinating pairing of man versus machine. Later, in the brief “10.14.4”, bits of Bleckmann’s voice are released in oddly paced, fast sequences, not unlike Steve Reich-inspired phase shifting, as machine-like synth bursts are added to the sonic atmosphere. By presenting what is described in the press materials as “an isolated snapshot of a sound bypassing the conventional rise and fall of improvisation and presenting only its static middle”, Branciforte and Bleckmann present, in these two tracks, what they refer to as “microloops”. According to Bleckmann, “These microloops were something we developed in our live set as a way of getting away from the usual arc of building something up over five or ten minutes.”

But as fascinating as these brief glimpses can be, the longer tracks allow the duo to stretch out and let the sound sequences unfold in a more leisurely manner. On “7.21,” light, simple keyboard lines are boldly and mercilessly manipulated, while Bleckmann’s voice, which also runs through a variety of treatments, gives the impression of otherworldly creatures lost in space. There’s desperation, tenderness, mystery, and hope in these grooves. Often, written descriptions fail to convey how composed and improvised sounds come across to the listener. “7.21” is one of those moments when you must hear for yourself and be gently blown away by what two uniquely talented artists in a recording studio can come up with.

On LP2‘s final track, “9.23”, Fender Rhodes, bass synth, glockenspiel, vibraphone, and wavetable oscillator are paired up with Bleckmann’s wide vocal range, with the music swelling in and out throughout the length of the piece. This subtle effect gives the impression of the music as a living, breathing thing, further dispelling the myth that music imbued with electronic assistance and studio wizardry is devoid of emotion.

Joseph Branciforte’s greyfade label adheres to many guiding principles, most of which seem out of step in the era of Spotify. Greyfade releases are not available on any streaming platform. “We believe that the ideal relationship between artist and listener is a direct-to-listener model,” Branciforte writes on the label’s website, “where artists retain control over the quality and context of their work, and listeners support the creation of music they value directly, without third-party intervention.” As a result, if you want to hear a greyfade album, go to the website (or Bandcamp page) and download the high-resolution files. Or better yet, buy the physical albums (all available on vinyl).

With LP2, Branciforte and Bleckmann have not only come full circle with a profoundly satisfying new release that builds upon their 2019 debut, but they’ve also created music that, like the rest of greyfade’s catalog, is meant to exist as a complete, front-to-back listening experience, ideally consumed under the best sonic conditions.

RATING 9 / 10