Slipway To Galaxies makes good by its name. Its music comes from the convergence of two orbital processes — Swiss violist Charlotte Hug is a spectacular technician, but she is also handy with pencil and paper, which she uses to render recorded improvisations into images called Son-Icons. These become graphic scores for successive musical performances, which in turn instigate new Son-Icons.
And just as her music orbits around this sound-image nexus, she’s also come full circle in the instrumentation. Hug has passed through electronic experimentation on the way to a self-contained solo approach that requires no electricity at all. Instead, she uses a stand of different bows — some wet, some slack, and one that is strung so she can stick her viola in between horsehair and wood. Between them all, she has the resources to extract a vast array of sounds, and even bow all four strings at once whilst periodically striking the instrument’s back. And she has paired her viola with every musician’s original instrument — her voice, which she uses to even less conventional effect. She whinnies, she growls, she rasps, she coos, and she ululates; she closely harmonizes with her bowing and belts out bold counterpoint. The one thing she doesn’t sing is words.
The voice is not only the earliest human instrument, it’s the most intimate one. Hug doesn’t shy from sounds so primal they seem pre-lingual, even pre-human; her birdlike twitters and brute grunts could be a shaman’s channeling of the supernatural aspects of other species as surely as the way she rakes her bow against her viola summons the brittleness of the wood from which the instrument was made. Stuff like this can raise the hackles, and there are points on Slipway To Galaxies that do just that; her pairing of spittle-soaked gurgles and a ragged drone on “Cyclic” brings to mind some awful cannibal feast. But it can also evoke the sublime, as when hoarse cries and high-pitched, long-held notes suggest graceful maneuvers of birds in formation on “Buzz & Fly.” The range of sound and emotion at Hug’s disposal is operatic, and if her earlier album Neuland was a solo tour de force, this one represents Hug as a highly accomplished one-woman ensemble.