Paragaté – Stillness In The Mirror (experimental/ ambient)

Posted on August 11, 2011


Auraltone AM009, 2011, CD album, 54m 26s


Stillness In The Mirror is an album that effectively fuses a mechanical, or automatic sonic sensibility with a very organic, human one. That’s an interesting strategy in and of itself, but I don’t get the impression that this conceptual framework is the point of the music: the sounds on this album signify in a complex way, with verbally poetic, tonally musical, and concretely sonic discourses interacting with one another on a variety of levels; the dialectic of organic and synthetic sound is another such interaction, and to my ear it is employed as a means to an end. There are some hauntingly beautiful and evocative recordings collected here, and to me, that is the site of the important musical meanings, although there is clearly a great deal going on intellectually as well.

The Auraltone catalogue describes this very simply as ‘a cyclic album’ and there is certainly a strong sense of cyclicity to many of the tracks: sometimes there is a sense of continuity beyond the boundaries of a piece, an intimation that the listener hears an essentially arbitrary selection from an indefinite set of repetitions (‘Still Day’); at other times cyclicity is audible in the structure of a piece that is synchronically well defined (‘Stilhed I Spejlet’).

Little of this music is diachronically cyclical in the classic manner of ambient or drone however. There are many structured statements, as for instance in the recitation in ‘To One In Bedlam’, and many distinct contrasts of sound or approach, which impart a sense of incident or narrative, and keep the listener’s active attention in a way that is distinct from the usual intentions of ambient music.

‘Lord Of Stones’ is a piano piece which sounds to have been recorded as a duo, or with overdubs: if not, then the stereo field has been manipulated to give the impression of three or more hands, with the highest notes placed in the centre. To me this piece speaks volumes about the album as a whole. It is built on layers of relatively simple overlapping phrases, which change over time, in a way that is reminiscent of minimalism, but without its systematic rigidity; dynamics are exploited in a way that injects a very human drama into proceedings; and the physical presence of the pianist as performer becomes important, unexpectedly so, given the usual predilections of experimental music. It meets ‘Concern With Language’ coming round the other way, with its distancing technological treatment of the human voice, and its phrasing of the poetry to obscure the sense.

Paragaté use apparently synthesised sounds, apparently instrumental sounds, field recordings and electronic processing in ways which do not make clear distinctions between them, and which treat them as tools with a sonic rather than a conceptual purpose. The meanings of the music operate at all levels, but as an intellectual statement this album needs to be taken as a whole. In detail, track by track, it presents sounds that the open ear will find make a relatively uncomplicated appeal to the aesthetic: I have to admit that my sensibilities are idiosyncratic, and more inclined to accept the avant-garde than most, but to me this music is straightforwardly engaging. It is decidedly far from disruptive or confrontational, creating soundworlds that are awash with a sense of light and clarity, and I don’t think that even conventionally inclined listeners will need to work too hard to hear the beauty in this intelligent and involving album.

Posted in: Music, Music reviews