With 'Temporal' Julia Kent Fuses the Tactile and the Abstract

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

With an understanding of detail and texture, cellist Julia Kent's Temporal displays her intimate understanding of acoustic and electronic elements.

Julia Kent

The Leaf Label

25 January 2019

While the sonic expansion of electroacoustic music is commonplace in the art music world, its execution is not always inspired. It's entirely acceptable to augment a singer or a string quartet with electronic elements, to enhance acoustic performers with loops and glitches, but results can sometimes sound like an unsuccessful mashing of ideas, an awkward marriage that offers little more than a misguided experiment. The best performers and composers working in the electroacoustic world do more than simply blend the digital with the analog–they exploit the best elements each world. It's easy to get lost in the timbral and polyphonic possibilities of fusing computers with keyboards and strings, and sometimes it's best to rely on a few select musical ideas and present them in their best form.

Cellist and composer Julia Kent has an intimate understanding of electroacoustic music and the potential inherent within the sound. Several albums deep into a career experimenting with the genre, her catalog amasses how to best blend the organic and synthetic sides of music. Temporal, her latest on the Leaf Label, collects music initially conceived for as accompaniment for theatrical and dance productions. Divorcing music from its original context can result in a disjunct recording that suffers removed from its context, yet the richness of her compositions is as clear through headphones as they would be in a black box theater.

At 12 minutes in length, opening track "Last Hour Story" loops echoing pizzicatos atop droning melodies and electronic murmurs. It's a study in how simple melodies and ever-growing musical layers can simultaneously convey dread and intrigue. What the track lacks in variety it compensates for with a meditation on texture and resonance. By contrast, "Imbalance" fuses mournful melodies with skitters and throbs more akin to dance music, yet the result never sounds cheap or forced. Kent understands how unites these disparate elements that respect their source material while presenting them in an entirely new context.

Constructed of looped cello riffs and obscured piano melodies, "Floating City" trades in the same clear ideas of the epic opening track. The slickly produced track envelopes the listener in a clean modern aesthetic, a soothing enough work that doesn't build or take off like others on Temporal. "Through the Window" is similar in construction yet substantially more solid in execution. Its bittersweet ambiance comes from its childlike programmed jingles, melancholy melodies, and echoed plucked notes that sway like ghosts in the background of a photo.

The only slight downfall of the album comes with the repetition of its musical themes. "Sheared" and "Conditional Futures" are haunting works, but, in effect, Temporal is an album packed with haunting works. Aside from the opening "Last Hour Story" most tracks linger in the three or four-minute range, enough to introduce ideas and textures without overstaying their welcome. One can't argue it's difficult to find variety while blending cello and digital elements; Kent is a master of the art as her tracks all contain a depth and soul miles beyond most of the electronic/classical fusions available today. The individual tracks here are stellar enough, but it would be fascinating to hear what she could produce on a grand, evening-length performance scale.

Perhaps the tracks throughout Temporal have a strikingly different impact when paired with the theatrical and dance performances that inspired them. Taken solely as a musical product, however, they still shine, works with nuance and deep understanding of their source elements. Kent is a fantastic voice in the new music world–what comes next from her can only be striking and enthralling.





Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.