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Belaska - Vault

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Artist: Belaska

Album: Vault

Label: wmo/r

Review date: Apr. 6, 2004

Two people sitting in a room. Musicians huddled around the recording apparatus of a small home set-up, or sectioned off in a studio, or gathered in front of the computer screen, working the resonance of the room like another member of the band. The space affects the outcome in as many inaudible ways as it does imprint a signature sound on the recording (the bloodless studio document, or the timely capture of an improvisation).

What happens when that room has been chosen for its peculiarities, its intrinsic and extrinsic meanings, both musical and meta-musical? Belaska, the duo of improviser Mark Wastell and laptop performer Mattin, happened upon a disused vault – a “safety-box”, as Mattin describes it in the liner notes – in London. A bank vault emptied of its ‘belongings’ and of its purpose, being utilized for other purposes. Vaults have other meanings too – they can be burial chambers; they can be simple everyday rooms with arched ceiling and walls. The body consists of vaults (any arched part of the anatomy qualifies). So, not just a bank vault then.

The liner notes from Mattin, Zeigam Azizov and Matthew Hyland work well at explaining the intent of the piece, the theoretical resonance of recording in a disused bank vault. I wonder at whether the artists were interested in reanimating the space, in ‘correcting’ its use (cue long discourse about free improvisation and economic imperatives). Mattin and Azizov talk of secrecy, of marginality, of the presence of (and within) absence, and of the ‘fragility’ of the space, exposed by its acoustic resonance. The acoustic properties of the vault cast these improvisations in a deep wall of dark reverb, with Wastell’s ‘amplified textures’ particularly heavy and foreboding. This music sounds like an arcane document, a hidden form of knowledge, so the secrecy reference is well placed. Can sound created in a disused bank vault be considered ‘arcane’? Perhaps not, but there’s certainly a ‘hidden form of knowledge’ – hidden from everyday life – about lock-boxes, vaults, deep recesses, secret storerooms. And there’s an intrigue to hidden knowledge that this recording plays upon, offering glimpses of itself to the listener, but never fully revealing its hand.

The subterranean inference of the bank vault (as shrouded, as storage, as inaccessible to the majority) parallels the music detailed on Vault. Wastell and Mattin immediately grasp both the sonic contours of the space and the extra-musical resonances of the work, and exploit every angle.

By Jon Dale

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