Maya Shenfeld 2024
Photo: Omri Livne / Thrill Jockey

Maya Shenfeld Works on a Cosmic Scale with ‘Under the Sun’

Under the Sun has a gravity that helps it stand out in the vast field of contemporary electronic music as Maya Shenfeld considers the magnitude of the cosmos.

Under the Sun
Maya Shenfeld
Thrill Jockey
23 February 2024

There’s a natural sheen to the spacious tracks of sound artist Maya Shenfeld’s Under the Sun, a layer so hard and smooth you could bruise a finger on it, reaching through the synths so lusciously overlaid upon almost every piece. It makes logical sense: Shenfeld recorded synthesizer parts and other instrumentation in closed spaces in Berlin, but much of the rest comes from field recordings at a deep and active Portuguese marble quarry during all-time high temperatures.

At once hollow, sharp, and sizzling, these elements give structure and urgency to an album otherwise made up of protracted drones and endless neon swirls. In combination with Shenfeld’s careful compositional sensibilities, they give Under the Sun a gravity that helps it stand out in the vast field of contemporary electronic music as Shenfeld considers the magnitude of the cosmos and our relative brevity within it.

Maya Shenfeld manages a sizable array of textures. Opening track “A Guide for the Perplexed” and later pieces “Geist” and “Light, Refracted” are the most fluid, the first two made up primarily of elongated chords in slow and gradual flux and the last a wordless choral piece featuring the Ritter Youth Choir. On the other end of the spectrum with regard to form are “Tehom”, a tremorous collage from the quarry, and “Interstellar”, a synth-heavy voyage that evokes vintage sci-fi scores but changes pace in ways unsettling enough to steer clear of retro camp.

No matter the speed of it, Shenfeld’s most important tactic is to keep moving just enough to jar the listening mind just when it thinks it’s found a solid place to land. There is no guarantee here of stillness or unchanging repetition, and that’s important in keeping the work intriguing.

The album’s final three tracks make for a poignant ending. “On Its Rounds the Wind Returns” opens with howling air, followed by a melancholy melody: a desolate combination that is, if not hopeless, certainly mournful. Discord grows from within the strings and industrial growls and thuds of “Sedek”, the shortest of the trio, which rises higher until it evaporates entirely, leaving a near-silence. From this emerges luminous “Analemma”, which brings back the choir in fine meditative form. They are soon joined by more instrumentation and then the powerful winds of the quarry, all of which come together in a marvelous and ephemeral sphere that grows until every bit of it disperses, the universe expanding until it simply drifts apart, a bittersweet peace.

Under the Sun is eight tracks and 40 minutes long, but every move Maya Shenfeld makes across it seems to happen on a galactic scale. It’s hardly in slow motion, but it requires us to suspend our understanding of time and speed and space and understand something much bigger. Shenfeld embraces an elegant simplicity in which she can enact moments of brilliance, her layers pitch-perfect in literal and figurative terms as she constructs an emotional arc of tension and resolve along which we come face-to-face with our relationship to our home planet and the endless space around it.

RATING 7 / 10