This latest release from Erik K. Skodvin's long-running solo project is billed as "zen music for disturbed souls."
Recorded back in 2018 in the bunkers of the "bombed out" Schneider Brewery in Berlin as a solo cello performance (of sorts) in the vein of past longform/(darkly) meditative releases like Black Tie and Moss Garden, "Devolving Trust" was originally intended only as a one-off installation/electroacoustic improvisation.Skodvin describes the space as "wet and hollow with a dark past and long reverb," which seems like an ideal setting for an eerie cello performance (or practically any Miasmah release). While attempting to translate such magical site-specific acoustics into an album intended for home listening can be one hell of a challenge, Skodvin pulled it off beautifully here, as these two pieces make very effective use of visceral, reverberant cello moans and the long decay of notes in the brewery's empty basement hallways.In fact, the recording translated so well that Skodvin was inspired to turn it into a formal album despite being historically averse to releasing live performances.That said, this album is also something more than a faithful documentation of a unique performance, however, as Skodvin ingeniously cannibalized the original 30-minute performance for a more tightly edited and mesmerizing companion piece ("Devolve") that feels roughly like all of the best parts experienced in reverse.Both pieces are great, but I especially enjoyed how beautifully the long decay times transformed into intensifying swells when the original recording was played backwards.
The opening title piece begins with a bassy, reverberating strum that rhythmically repeats, albeit with plenty of space between strums for the long decay to fade into silence.It is a fine starting point, as the chords have a pleasingly woody and hollow tone, yet the piece begins to blossom into something more substantial after a couple minutes when Skodvin starts to introduce new chords and textures between the deep, echoing strums.The slow-motion intensification continues to evolve as the piece unfolds, gradually becoming more gnarled and visceral as echoing scrapes, harmonic squeals, and violently bowed notes become a more regular occurrence.It achieves a fascinating sort of bleak beauty, as new forms to start to appear and an uneasy balance is struck between the slow, heaving pulse of the chords and the more convulsive snarls of bowed melody.By the 15-minute mark, the piece has become something quite wondrous and organic, evoking a haunted aviary of ghost birds mingled with slowly heaving cosmic exhalations. Skodvin leaves one last trick for the final act though, as the crescendo of the piece feels like a spacey free jazz performance by a lone saxophonist in a cavernous cistern. I have absolutely no idea how Skodvin produced such a reverberating storm of blurts, squeals, and howls from a cello, but whatever he did is extremely cool and cathartic.
The reversed version ("Devolve") that follows was created from repurposed fragments of the original performance, so not all of the original performance's highlights return for an encore.They are not missed at all though, as the slowly intensifying swells punctuated by snapping attacks and backwards chords are quite delightful, as are the slow washes of dubby, static-y clicks and the haunting finale of spectral melodies.To my ears, both pieces are similarly excellent, as Skodvin manages to weaves richly textured and immersive sound worlds from just a few simple components.He also manages to perfectly balance his shadowy Miasmah-defining gloom with enough human warmth and emotional intensity to avoid ever drifting into dreary dark ambient territory.Moreover, neither piece feels particularly improvised, so I am guessing Skodvin carved away any lulls or missteps that might have hurt the pacing ("Devolving Trust" seems to be five minutes shorter than the original performance). Finally, the inclusion of the reversed and reworked second piece was one hell of a great idea, imbuing the album the pleasingly symmetrical feel of a hallucinatory palindrome. As a result of all those decisions, Devolving Trust ultimately feels like a beautifully constructed, immersive, and fully formed artistic statement rather than a live document. This easily ranks among my favorite Erik Skodvin albums.
Samples can be found here.