Recently reissued by Fabrica Records, Robert Turman’s “Beyond Painting” is a stunning piece of work. Orginally recorded in 1990 but not released until 2010, this melancholic epic is rich in deep, languorous tones that enmesh the listener in a web of creepy and affecting sonics.
The record begins with “Soft Self Portrait”; sighing, heavily processed vocals hover above a mournful loop of backwards melody, creating a dread-filled environment of sound. Turman carefully applies a counterpoint synth figure after the initial theme is stated, showing a deft and understated hand. “Al-Qa’ida” introduces a guitar riff offset by murmuring synth, which is then helped along by a lush string sound. The parts fit again, naturally and seamlessly, with a grace characteristic of this entire LP. “First Quarter” arrives with a haunting intro that prefigures a lot of the synth work that is out right now; its dense, warm analog textures are something to bask in, upon the surface of your own sea.
Turman’s use of tape loops is everywhere and nowhere at once; the loops themselves are often the bedrock for these gently shifting melodic excursions, but are never showy or obtrusive. “Reflux” uses loops simply, to great effect–the composition begins minimally, with interlocking looped tones playing off each other. An ominous, expanding drone rises from the structure of the original loops and carries the drifty bliss away, turning into a decidedly gloomier middle segment, before the original loops (recontextualized now amid the darker textures) emerge and reestablish their presence. A smart and unpredictable piece all the way. Following this is “the Unforgiven”, a bleak and slow-moving landscape of pure sadness that functions as the LP’s centerpiece for me. I find it hard to put into words what is so affecting about this piece–but its hypnotic simplicity and sheer sonic obsessiveness are gripping every time I hear it.
The last two tracks–”Subterra” and “Beyond Painting”–continue mixing small bits of sound and melody with great success and emotional resonance. The gentle swells of noise at the end of “Subterra” fit perfectly within the pulsing roll of the loops, before Turman unleashes some slightly jarring static bursts and delayed feedback blurts to conclude the piece. The title track and final piece lurches to life with a stutter, setting a looped drone against a spiky, arpeggiated guitar figure. The departure from the theme never really occurs here, but that hardly matters. The piece gently fades from view like a car going over a desert horizon after its twelve minutes of wondrous drift.
Throughout this record Turman allows things to breathe and grow before augmenting the music slightly with different melodic and sonic elements; his patience is uncanny and rewarding. I’d only heard his collab stuff with Dilloway prior to hearing this album; its eerie calm and and easy, unhurried nature have deeply impressed me and make me eager to hear more of Turman’s work. Nice job by Fabrica Records for sending this worthy reissue out into the world.