Mountains (picture by Mapsadaisical)
This was first up at TLOBF.
I’d not been to the Slaughtered Lamb before – a dimly lit hideaway on Great Sutton Street in Farringdon – and coming in, out of the damp of a London night, down a flight of stairs and into an underground music space was a little disorienting. There was a small bar, plush sofas flush against the bare-brick walls and a variety of cushions strewn about the place. It only needed some velvet drapes and some bearskin and the bacchanalia could commence. As it was, the only orgy of the night was to be sonic; and anyway, there were far too many bearded men about for it to be enjoyable.
Pausal began the night with a series of warm drones, the two artists sat to the right of the small stage area, one working a laptop, the other coaxing gentle drift from his guitar. The duo’s EP (reviewed here and out on High Point Lowlife) has garnered some praise (including us!) for its quiet, autumnal grace and live this came across as well, the venue gradually filling with quilted swells of sound. The drones were married to some brilliant visuals as well, with what looked like blurred footage from an Arctic expedition and some haunting pencilled drawings, painstakingly pieced together to form a strange accompanying narrative. The way the film pieces were projected against two hanging squares of white muslin also created a strange ghosting effect that doubled the imagery, further deepening the overall texture of sound and visuals. The band have an album out early next year, which should be worth getting hold of.
Mountains, to me, have always seemed a band that implicitly understand the structures of silence, or at least have spent a great deal of time observing the way sound layers swarm and piece together. From their earliest pastoral drone pieces, I’ve pictured them being from some wooded backwater, hermitic and devotional, delicately piecing together sound fugues. The fact that they are based in New York only marginally messes up this neat picture… At present, as on their recent beautiful LP Etchings, the duo are using the live situation to build intricate sound pieces from accumulated drones and looped acoustic instruments, and working their intimate understanding of sound-layers towards some sort of logical conclusion. The result is one of slow constructions, of managed build and release, of a kind of channelled ecstasy. They’re becoming quite something.
Tonight, Mountains are performing a piece that has been perfected over recent live performances. The single 40-minute track begins with a simple wheezing melodica that forms the cushioned base of the entire piece; this is gradually augmented by various percussive implements (I say implements because at one stage the soft click of an egg whisk against a square of treated metal is used, later a string bag of marbles is delicately scrunched in front of a microphone) and two acoustic guitars. Slowly, the sonic texture thickens, the ear searching for quieter elements, other elements seeming to phase from the mix only to return slightly louder, or altered somehow. And because of the nature of the venue – one that allows for a simple contemplative acceptance of the performance, and, because of its structure, one that enhances and at times seems to swell the available sound – at times, you find yourself leaning into the wind of the thing searching for the resonant heart of the sound, at others metaphorically swaying your ears backward as a percussive click seems to bounce from the walls.
At around the halfway mark, the duo recollect themselves before relaunching the track towards its towering, immersive climax, where they approach the ceiling-scraping epiphanies of Fennesz or Keith Fullerton Whitman – yet that extraordinary sense of control never leaves; and the fact that the two never seem to act from any visual cues, acting from some deeper level of understanding only intensifies the whole performance. As the track approaches whiteout you feel it might be possible to ride the thing out into the street and up, up… It ends much as it begun, a slowly devolution into the warm breath of the melodica and then, again, silence. Snapping back into the room, several people are still far-gone, eyes closed and wearing the faintest of smiles. A hell of a night’s work, that.
M*7 review of Choral
Download: Mountains - Etchings (Edit)
Download: Mountains - Choral
Mountains/Pausal - The Slaughtered Lamb 5/11/09
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