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Oren Ambarchi - Triste

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Artist: Oren Ambarchi

Album: Triste

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Sep. 22, 2005

When Triste was originally released by Idea Records, the limited edition LP was as much a fetish as it was a record. It had Idea’s usual top-notch packaging, and was pressed on a hulking 220 grams of vinyl. As often happens with Idea releases, these non-musical aspects usurped much of the critical attention from the tunes at the bottom of those deep grooves. It’s not surprising that, even at a rather steep price, the LP sold out its initial pressing. This CD reissue by Southern Lord provides a second chance for those who couldn’t pony up for, or were unable to find Triste in its former incarnation.

Obviously, this reissue is lacking a certain something when compared to the original. The size and materials of the packaging aside, it doesn’t take an audiophile to realize that a CD will have some aural deficiencies when compared to a slab of 220-gram vinyl. This digital version of Triste, however, isn’t simply a cheap imitation of the original; there’s an impressive body to the sound that survives the transition quite well.

Triste’s source is a live recording Ambarchi made in Nijmegen, Holland in 2001. It’s vintage Ambarchi, with simple guitar tones processed and filtered to create sounds alien to the instrument’s usual palate. The Australian begins by arranging these tones rather sparsely, leaving plenty of room for more intent listening. The stark, full-bodied tones are more reminiscent of an electric piano than a guitar, though Ambarchi doesn’t mask them so completely as to obscure the music with the artificiality of the sound. The distinct clarity of the tones and meditative qualities of the first track (which constituted side A of the LP) could even be misconstrued for new age, were it not for the imperfections that Ambarchi’s approach imbues. Special attention is paid to the attack and decay of the sounds, with digital clicks, subtle purrs, and foggy trails interrupting the placid atmosphere.

As Ambarchi’s improvisation progresses, however, more mingling is permitted amongst the tones, and Ambarchi slowly coaxes more textural swatches of sound from his transmogrified guitar, setting gentle drones against the telltale pockmarks of his digital processing. As Triste enters its final thematic segment during the second half of the second “side,” Ambarchi’s digital alterations come to the forefront. No longer riding the strong, clean tones as sonic barnacles, the distorted whirrs and insectoid glitches swallow up their former hosts; as the more obviously effected sounds begin to take precedence in the mix, one can almost hear the death throes of the album’s opening tones in the warped and wrinkled knots of processed sound.

It’s an expected, though not necessarily welcome turn of events, as Triste is stronger when the more destructive qualities of the music are merely implied. Just as the cracks and shifting composition of a glacial ice floe betray the destructive force within the beauty of the structural form, the speaker-rattling dynamics and electronically altered fragments of Triste’s first half show a darker side beneath the slowly drifting beauty of the mutated guitar. It’s the tension between the two that becomes Triste’s most arresting aspect, and Ambarchi’s most accomplished creation.

The vinyl edition of Triste came with a 7” of remixes by Tom Recchion, appended here as the disc’s final two tracks. These reworkings aren’t without merit, though their inclusion here as footnotes to Ambarchi’s original work practically guarantees a side-by-side comparison that makes Recchion’s work feel more unnecessary than it likely would in 7” form. Their inclusion makes sense for convenience’s sake, though it’s another example of the oft-misguided quest to pack reissued recordings with as much material as possible. These tracks work well as companions, but their presentation here as an equal third of the album seems to detract from Triste more than enhance it.

By Adam Strohm

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