I stumbled across “MODULAR: Sonic Explorations” while hunting for an Eyvind Kang track on YouTube. Situations such as this make me reflect that, while I miss record stores terribly, dammit, I love the internet.
While Eyvind is featured on the album, it is really a vehicle for guitarist Dan Phelps, drummer Matt Chamberlain, and bassist Viktor Krauss to riff off the philosophical question “What might it sound like if you were to connect with the world as a musical instrument?”
According to the project blurbiage:
“The Modular Project is the collaboration of a select group of sonic technicians working together to discover what the spontaneous and organic manipulation of sound can yield. Inspired by the world around them, they set out to discover what it might sound like when continents shift, clouds form, and roots push through soil.
Capturing and manipulating the hum of the natural world, their results show that there are as many answers as there are questions, that in seeming chaos there is order, and within that order there are new undiscovered truths waiting to be revealed.”
The album cover contains a silhouette of a fancifully designed sensory device complete with gramophone horn decorated ala hypno-spiral and the associated booklet contains photographs of said device apparently taking the aural readings of various natural environments, one each per song. The device and photos (and resulting gallery display) all by Seattle artist, (and Murder City Devils guitarist) Nate Manny.
Got that? Okay: great but what hooked me wasn’t the concept or the packaging, it was the music. I listened to a big chunk of the opening track, “Everest,” on YouTube, then snippets of three others on the site and that was all I needed: YOINK.
Of the four musicians on the album, it didn’t hurt that I recognized and trust Eyvind Kang, enjoy Viktor Krauss’ first album, “Far From Enough,” and am a big fan of Matt Chamberlain’s 2009 collaboration with Bill Frisell, Tucker Martine, and Lee Townsend: “Floratone.” The only one new to me was Dan Phelps – and you can bet I’ll be exploring his work right soon.
The 6 tracks on “MODULAR: Sonic Explorations” are sprawling, haunting, slow-building, and expansive; instrumental expressions of great warmth and beauty, evoking … well, whatever they evoke for you. The sound is reminiscent of that produced by Chicago’s Tortoise but with a more organic, open, less urban, feel: the northwest coast is here. Keyboard, guitar, drums, and bass are prominent, with electronic, sampled, and manipulated textures kiting in and out, underfoot and overhead, as well as the occasional inclusion of the always welcome sound of Eyvind Kang’s bowed strings.
These are longish pieces, the shortest coming in at just under 7 minutes, and they are given the chance to develop and arc without feeling constrained or going stale. While not terribly challenging, there are some dissonant and more deeply distorted elements thrown in here and there to hint, perhaps, at the underlying darkness inherent in the part of nature’s order that we misunderstand and label as chaos.
Overall, “MODULAR: Sonic Explorations” offers a lovely, thrilling, and hypnotic ride with the only downside being that you can’t buy the cd – you have to make one.
The recordings can be purchased in either a meticulously produced, gate-fold vinyl set or in one of a variety of downloadable formats at: oceanographicrecords.bandcamp.com/album/modular
Go ahead and have a listen if you don’t believe me: