Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp

Noveller’s ‘Arrow’ Creates Mini-Symphonies for Guitar and Effects

Experimental guitarist, Noveller's Arrow suggests discoveries, open spaces, the sense of a calm certainty re-occurring over repeated listens.

Ba Da Bing
12 June 2020

I once introduced a group of undergraduates to my music-themed writing class by showing a video of Sarah Lipstate — aka Noveller — playing at the Royal Albert Hall without the sound. I then asked them to write what they suspected her music sounded like based on the visuals alone. Not surprisingly, there were a few Zeppelin references, due to her use of a violin bow. Otherwise, they “heard” heavy riffs, squealing feedback, punk attitude. In other words, rock and roll as we know it, likely due to assumptions many of us make about the electric guitar conjuring sonic overload with help from a floor covered in effects pedals, as well as the long shadows cast by rock’s 20th-century heyday.

After we heard a few descriptions, I played the video again with sound. I watched my students’ express collective bafflement when they listened to the glacial, all-enveloping symphonies she was coaxing out of a single six-string as she swung her guitar to the sky before stabbing out a new frequency. It was one way of letting them know that music has the power to rearrange as many assumptions as it might reinforce.

And upending notions of what an electric guitar can do is something Lipstate’s been doing successfully over more than a dozen releases in as many years. Not to mention her work sound tracking film and Radiolab podcasts, or providing Iggy Pop the perfect backdrop for his dramatic reading of a Dylan Thomas poem. Arrow finds her having moved from Brooklyn to LA, and it’s a challenge not making assumptions that such a radical change in landscape has affected the music here. There’s even a track titled “Canyons”.

There is much calm and introspective about Arrow; sounds appear to ripple and echo outward while sustained tones change pitch in the background. “Zeaxanthin” provides a perfect example of this, as what sounds like a distant sonar arises from the murk over the track’s eight-plus minutes. “Pattern Recognition,” begins with a clear, repeated phrase, a giveaway to listeners that this is guitar-based music, although it is soon engulfed in fog and portending riffery before disappearing altogether. “Thorns” is likely to be the album’s most dreamy catharsis, starting off worryingly before scooping shards of harmony into the mix, which, bit by bit, overtake the music as a nearly subconscious calm erases the track’s first several minutes.

The album suggests discoveries, open spaces, the sense of a calm certainty re-occurring over repeated listens. Think of it as a less jagged Rudolph Grey, or perhaps a more serene Urthona. Whatever the case, Lipstate has given us a recording of our dreams, often as inexplicable as they are amorphous or disturbing.

RATING 7 / 10