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Bleep Explores Experimental Music in July: On and Christopher Willits

Entering the Bleep store over the past week have been two stunning albums from musicians who value collaboration as a means of broadening their spectrum of sounds. On have crafted a record that is highly unique in its approach and whilst it may not be an easy listen, if you take the time to let it form in your ears it will reveal itself as a hypnotic and quite magical album of intricate detail. Tiger Flower Circle Sun is the latest solo record from audio-visual composer and guitarist Christopher Willits. Having worked with Taylor Deupree, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Matmos in the past he draws together a vast array of styles for this record that owes as much to Aphex Twin, as to the psychedelic collage music of Broadcast, Reich’s minimalism and even the Beach Boys.

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Lurking behind the band name ‘On’ is a very original idea. Formed by pianist and guitar player Sylvain Chauveau and percussionist Steven Hess, they record improvisations that are handed to a rotating third member to be manipulated and formed into a record. For their third release, On is completed by collaborator Christian Fennesz, who treats the source material with a lightness of touch, creating an emotive album of dronescapes that evoke industrial beauty.

Something That Has Form And Something That Does Notis a collection of long and expansive pieces consisting of seemingly static washes of sound, loops and drones. It is within these linear elements that the music in fact reveals itself in a constant state of flux, teeming with life and energy. Opener The Inconsolable Polymath sounds like an ensemble of rotating helicopter blades, muted alarm bell and pure electronic tones. The title track begins with what could be a duet for morse code accompanied by quiet hum and overlapping loops and builds to include soft synthetic chords, the crackling of a flame and the hiss of escaping air. Hess’s metronomic drumming dominates the foreground and consists of a satisfyingly strange collection of resonant cymbal crashes, drum hits that could be prepared piano and a dry hi-hat.

Much like closing track The Lonesome Poetry of Mark Rothko from On’s previous release, The Sound Of White appears to reference minimalist visual art and emptiness. Similar to the soundscapes that On create, a canvas that appears to be merely a wash of single colour is on closer inspection full of texture and imperfections. The Sound of White depicts the noisy reality of silence, and calls on sensory associations we make with sound. At times there is a sense of being submerged underwater, or in the recording studio hearing the musicians shuffle in their seats. The realism of musique concrete is combined with what feels like the amplified internal bodily sounds we experience as we breathe, suffer tinnitus or hear the liquid beating of our hearts. A beautiful mixture of real and treated sound, this track epitomises the originality of On’s collaborative approach.

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With track names such as Sunlight Is You, Green Faces and New Life there is clearly an underlying theme of renewal and light in Christopher Willits’ latest album Tiger Flower Circle Sun. He creates immersive, bleary soundscapes of layered guitar and intricate glitchy textures, collaging sampled fragments to create patterns of interlocking rhythm and texture. His pallet of colours embraces sounds as diverse as electric guitar, horns, synths, glitches, choral vocals and even cow bell to create his ‘holistic universe’ as he describes it, ‘in which all elements are interconnected’.

The album begins with Portal and we are transported to Willits’ world; warm fuzz envelops a series of sustained guitar chords that struggle to be heard beneath waves of distortion and white noise. Sun Body opens with a symphony of clipped guitar glitches before Willits’ vocals melt into minimalist hooks and layers of complex rhythmic patterns. This wonky song feels stuck together like a jigsaw puzzle, yet never disjointed and is a track of hidden complexity. The Hands Connect To The Heart builds as guitar loops and clicks are layered upon a repeated ascending melodic pattern. Gradually a wash of soft fuzz and whirling tone crescendos into the foreground and the song builds to an ecstatic climax- perhaps a party track for robots of the future! Triptych of songs Light Into Branches- Branches Into Flowers- Flowers Into Stardust, embody Willits’ sonic universe of contradictions as an acoustic guitar led folk ditty becomes distorted noise and then celestial ambience. Tiger Flower Circle Sun takes us on an abstract voyage from the sun to the stars and despite its eclectic elements never loses coherence as a whole. Willits has created a truly genre-defying album that is complex and experimental, yet warm, uplifting and full of fun.

Words by Nicole Robson.

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