Shō – Infinity Plus One

Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. / 2020

On his first album Infinity Plus One, Florian Sankt fully realizes the textural potential only hinted at on his first two EPs. That is to say, whereas his earlier work was based around simple, droning chords underlying plaintive, sometimes seemingly improvised melodies, here he has expanded that compositional framework to give the music a complexity and depth that was previously not present, thereby pushing his sound from something rather close to minimal ambient industrial music into a far more expressive realm: music resembling a collage of ambient sound that still finds a way to center itself around a melody. This occasionally makes for incredibly strange music: sometimes just as the listener eases into a texture, a melody enters (although not always perceptibly). From there the listener can follow that melodic narrative or let it remain in the background. I find the way that Shō invites this kind of bifurcated listening technique exceptionally impressive, but let me further illustrate what I mean with an example.

            The album’s second track, “First Snow” opens with a mysterious arpeggiated four-note-chord played by several different instruments/synths at once and echoed by what sounds like a muted guitar. The chord rotates through every part and occasionally is taken down a step, but for the first full minute of the track it’s the only “melodic” element of the song; other than that, there are a few tones moving in and out of focus, some weird samples, and an unsettling bassline. But at about 1:10, room clears for a softly spinning three-note chord melody—a real melody this time, with a chord progression and meter echoed by the backing drones. It continues for about a minute more before being interrupted by strange, off-key synth sounds, making way for the original four-note-chord, which carries the piece to its conclusion. So while the song begins and ends as something relatively static with more attention given to ambient space and sound, at its center is a simple, innocent melody that somehow bends the bookended disquiet to its unassuming will. A peculiar snow globe of a song, indeed. But never do these melodies demand the listeners attention any more than the track’s drones and samples, they all merely coexist most of the time, and while one part moves forward the other merely swirls.

            But “First Snow” is not the only track to employ melody this way. “A Port in the Storm”’s central electric piano plays an extemporary, meandering melody around which its ghastly drones move; the piano’s trepidation echoes the listener’s as both become wrapped in a storm of fierce winds. But the listener can choose to immerse herself either in those winds or to identify with the piano itself or do both at once, focusing instead on the relationship of the piece’s different sounds. “Relativ Reality” moves the melody part to the synth bassline, which only acts to hide the musical “center” deeper in the mix and in that way further obfuscate what one is “supposed” to listen to. “Landcorals” waits some two-minutes before giving us its off-kilter chord progression, but its basketball samples and endless reverb carry on as if ignorant of any development.

            Overall for me it is this experimental, or perhaps merely unconventional, composition that really drives these songs and makes Shō’s music worth listening to. His samples and synth tones aren’t particularly unique or special, but the way he arranges them and the way they interact is something resolutely original and accomplished.

By Isak McCune

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