Holy shit, I wish I could listen to this on a giant 3D speaker system, like those at Stanfordâ€™s CCRMA or Audium in San Francisco. The dense atmosphere of the drones produced by these avant-garde maestros demands to be heard not just on surround sound but from above and below. Producer and trombonist Stuart Dempster recalls exclaiming during his performance, â€śI am hearing spherically.â€ť The performance was actually designed as an audiospatial experience, and the liner notes bemoan the arduous process of mixing it down to stereo. The band created rippling, intricate layers of looping motifs by using the Expanded Instrument System (EIS), a setup that allows them to play back and manipulate loops during live improvisation, and also â€śspatializeâ€ť the speaker array to more accurately correlate time and space.
Dempster drones on guttural wind instruments such as conch shell, didgeridoo, (contrabass) trombone, and duck calls. Renowned accordionist Pauline Oliveros is credited mostly just to her accordion, but every member of this trio is also credited with â€śtoys, little sounds,â€ť and Sing-a-Mah-Jigs. Seriously, those are real things. They make weird birdcall noises and shit.
Sadly, the other veteran member of Deep Listening band, David Gamper, passed away last year. His instrumental repertoire is more diverse: aside from piano and flute on most of these epic soundscapes, he is credited only with â€śtoys, little soundsâ€ť on the second track. This recording is the result of Gamperâ€™s final time playing with the group, during a weeklong residency at Town Hall Seattle, supported by UWâ€™s School of Music. Given the variety of timbre at their disposal, theyâ€™re able to take you from haunting, cavernous ambient, dominated by Dempsterâ€™s low didgeridoo bleating; to shimmering, kaleidoscopic washes of slowly expanding echoes of chirping toy birdcallsâ€”itâ€™s pure bubbly bliss on the 19-minute â€śGreat Horned Howl,â€ť by far my favorite track of the four. I should have resisted the temptation to pick a â€śfavoriteâ€ť on an album that is clearly meant to be absorbed as a whole opus, but these experienced high-tech musicians have created something so intricately beautiful without being stodgy or â€śacademicâ€ť about it, I donâ€™t think theyâ€™d judge their audience at allâ€”they know weâ€™re in awe.