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Loren Chasse and Michael Northam - The Otolith

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Artist: Loren Chasse and Michael Northam

Album: The Otolith

Label: Helen Scarsdale

Review date: Apr. 23, 2009

There are two things that distinguish Loren Chasse from many of his fellow artists: inquisition, and patience. Inquisition, because he’s one of the more exploratory artists of the ear; and yet that inquisitive nature is coupled with humility. Where the agents of modern noise often go for hyper-accelerated, bombastic ‘statements,’ Chasse turns to nature to unearth the everyday sublime – he’s in some ways the underground’s audio Thoreau. Chasse’s patience follows logically, as his attention to detail and his deftness at listening and composing is borne of an ability to let his work develop slowly, such that nuance is borne of the long stretch.

On The Otolith, Chasse collaborates with Michael Northam, a composer whose ear is similarly gentle, curious and unwearied. They bring out the best in each other, and locate simpatico at the crossing of their respective aesthetics, which is the best one can say for any collaboration. And while the material of their alliance is fairly unsurprising – field recordings, open air recitals, scrapings and scratchings on random materials, the hiss and rumble of ashy and earthen drones, the buzzing burr of automated strings, the asthmatic wheeze of the harmonium – the results are, as the saying has it, far more than the sum of their parts.

Both “Spinning Cloth” and “Crag” lean on meandering, struck bowls and gongs, but their context removes them from the supplication toward ritual and esoterica that commonly accompany such gestures. Instead, they’re brought close to the ear and inspected, not clinically but with an ear that’s both studious and sensuous. Likewise, the halatial drones that close “The Spectral Harvest,” open “Regeneration,” and fold through “Eggeater’s Retreat” glimmer with protean energy, all while maintaining the calm that settles across The Otolith.

Chasse’s and Northam’s collaboration intensifies the transformative properties of what they do solo. Here we see harmoniums swarming through the air on insect wings, water trickling down the walls of Harry Bertoia’s study, and wind whistling through microphones and on to hard disks. There’s an element of audio travelogue here (the recordings come from San Francisco, Estonia, Bruxelles and beyond), but it’s also about broaching spaces: transformations of geography as much as of audio documentation. Think of it as a Borgesian library of sound events and you’re close to The Otolith’s charms.

By Jon Dale

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