Túrion – Low Spirits

Shimmering Moods Records / 2020

For the past year, Jaap Van Hamond’s work as a composer has increasingly explored the topology of its instruments’ respective sounds. His recent music is defined by protracted, pure, and oftentimes Minimal chords that are given temporal and physical space to breath. The emphasis there being on space. But bear in mind, only by hearing elements of spatial contrast can we define and measure the breadth of the sound at hand. If we listen to his 2019 piece, “Stone Memory,” (video below) we cannot help but feel that—despite that works’ galloping melodies, difficult trills, and occasional jazz chords—the emphasis of the piece is on the spatial contrast between the instruments’ respective timbres, as if the real music somehow lies between the notes in the space they create with their reverberation. It is in the conflict between the flute and vibraphone that we hear this space.

Hamond’s recent debut album as Túrion translates this approach to electronic drone music quite nicely. It’s all clear water and glass and sky and soft edges. But perhaps within that framework, the most interesting components are the edges.

For example, if one listens to “Leap,” in both the intro and the song proper, one will hear a single muffled drone (continuing throughout both pieces), as if the wind is blowing it in and out of audibility. I suspect Hamond is applying a glitch technique to an already recorded track. By muting and unmuting the track quickly and irregularly, he can create this muffling effect and then mask it with reverb. (There are other ways to create this effect and others like it, but for discussion’s sake bear with me.) It’s a surprising and somewhat dissonant way to open the album. It seems aurally inimical to the bright, lucid tones in which the listener is otherwise enveloped. This is what I’m calling an “edge.”

Other “edges” can be heard on each of the album’s remaining tracks. The gargling amp buzz underlying “Miasma,” the music box melody on “Symbiosis I,” the overloaded glitching throughout “Young Fire,” the strange pulsations on “Clamorhead,” the flickering of insect-like synths on “Soft Sleep,” and the rattling processed samples on “Symbiosis II.” These edges introduce strange, jarring, and oftentimes arhythmic motifs into songs that are otherwise defined by their consistent tonal purity, luster, and tranquility, which remain even when the album veers into minor keys. (Symbiosis’s music box is exceptional, and I will return to that case). The edges effectively displace the listener from the space initially defined by the music’s melodic elements. In this way they act as a foil to the album’s drones in much the same way that the flute and vibes foiled each other in “Stone Memory” above, and in doing so, I believe these elements’ conflict defines the space of each piece. In other words, with only expansive pure tones, the listener would be lost in between breath; on the other hand, without them, the listener might feel no musicality to the album whatsoever. But in the symbiotic environment crafted by Túrion, we better appreciate the shape defined by these contesting forces. “Symbiosis I” achieves a similar effect in a different way, by incorporating a proper melody played on instrumentation absent from the rest of the album. This adds a certain unexpected-but-welcome depth to the work as a whole, and I don’t hear it as an out-of-place song by any means.

But even if one follows my theoretical line of reasoning, the fact of this spatially defining contrast is not enough to solve the riddle of Low Spirits, in my opinion. How can one call this apparently blissed out meditation on the sky anything other than “high”? Which is to say, what has us in low spirits? At the same time, are the spirits themselves low? There appears to be something to this conflict at the center of the record’s spatial mechanism that drives us at once into contemplation and into a realm of apparition. I think it’s this hidden space the album reveals to us that I find even more fascinating than the music itself.

By Isak McCune

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