Jasmine Guffond, Yellow Bell, 2015

jasmine guffond frontSonic Pieces label

Ambient style: drone, experimental. I would call this a ‘pretty’ drone album in that it’s restless and shifting, ‘experimental’ in the sense that the artist is constantly trying new things, not content to just let her tones sit and hang but willing to try out different textures and surfaces to see how they might interact. It’s never clear what the source instruments or noises might be, but it appears to be largely filtered through a keyboard and computer software.

jasmine guffond labelYellow Bell… here we have a white Australian of European descent co-opting Chinese philosophy to build her musical ideas around. In this case, the “yellow bell” is a toll that ties society to its place in the cosmos and needs to be adjusted from time to time. Musically, there’s no bell to speak of, but rather a pretty twinkling drone around which other blurred drones hum and move, blending and separating. One of these is very deep, operating at sub-bass levels, almost x-raying the walls, which is nice. Another is made of air and static and hiss. Something low pulse-thuds while a white noise drone rises in the mix. This is a general pattern—different kinds of drones come and go, cross-pollinate, fade, but it’s interesting and variable, never static.

Elephant… starts with a ragged tinkly staticky crackly fire noise, digital modem detritus, though organic sounding, while keyboard tones pulse, and the faint chant-waver of a female vocal hums softly far off in the background. It’s mellow, and mostly relaxing despite the continued burning sound, which gets slowly pushed behind an oscillating machine drone that takes over the track menacingly, with increased volume and drama, and what sounds like a broken plastic fan pattering wackily along. This soon fades to a very low distant pulse. The whole thing suggests war-at-a-distance, a far remove, just one more noise in the competing maelstrom of everyday life. A weakly sung blurred female vocal intones, “There’s an elephant in my room” several times, as if to suggest these distant wars can’t just be ignored no matter how much you bury your head in musical abstraction. The slowly oscillating drone becomes less pleasant, more mechanical with a harsh edge before fading right out.

Core Notions… blurry watery drones pulse wave-like, a very faint male chant can just be heard beneath the sheeny dusty synth and low bass pulses. Again, different kinds of drones, indistinct, fuzzy, sheeny, pulsing, with subtle ‘live’ noises, intersect, cross each other out, rise and fall with the tone of something vastly industrial and mechanical, echo-chamber, searing, tunnel-like, always distant. Everything that happens on Yellow Bell is beyond the horizon, happening in another country perhaps, or another part of the city, but there on the periphery—ambient in the sense that if you close your eyes these kinds of tones are in the air and hovering around us all the time.

jasmine guffond labelUseful Knowledge… another sheeny mechanical drone warbles for a bit before a percussive element arrives, like a drum roll with all the bass filtered out. The drone pulses, rings with airy currents, beeps, vaguely menacing again, that drum roll suggesting a military theme perhaps. A much prettier and louder drone wipes that out, and a loud vocal hum, like a ‘healing’ voice, intones along with the synth tones. A female tone, and a deeper male tone create a pattern, but it’s effective, and vaguely spiritual. Nice.

Lisa’s Opening… starts with a few jagged blotches before a more decidedly electronic swirl tone warbles with thuds and pips and submarine bleeps punctuating the peace. A pleasant oscillation of blurred bleeps plays over field recording of party conversation. Female vocal tones sings something indecipherable and tuneless. Forgettable.

RR Variation… opens very quietly with a faint drone and a white noise patter, vocalisations of drone-hum pierce through, while the sound of some kind of indistinct human activity seems to occur off-stage. These disparate parts come and go in volume, bleed and blend, an electronic pulsing bass fills in the low end, but it’s rooted in distraction and even when the volume rises and that ‘activity’ sound gets louder, we’re left to guess what’s happening and what’s causing the drama of the increasing intensity in volume. The pulsing keyboard drones take over completely, playing a repeated set of blurry notes, but pleasant enough, if not for the slowly increasing volume which brings more drama and fills up the middle section of this ten minute track. Eventually it dissolves into a weird warble, like something breaking down, and dying keyboard tones, like aeroplanes momentarily dropping out of the sky, play the piece towards its melancholy end.

jasmine guffond backSummary: Drone is my least favourite ambient style, but this is far more interesting than most drone albums because there’s a lot going on, and the music never sits still for long. The tones are ‘authentic’ in the sense that they often sound like they come from real life rather than a computer, and this effect is enhanced by various ‘field recording’ elements which suggest human activity behind the manipulation of tones. It works well at both low and high volume levels, though is low on musicality in terms of memorable ‘tunes’ – not that we expect tunes per se, but repeated listens have yet to bring forth any kind of ‘aha’ moments for me.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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