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Loren Chasse, "Characters at the Water Margin"

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cover image The photographs that comprise the artwork for Characters at the Water Margin, of the Hoh River and of Washington State’s Pacific coast, teem with secluded life, the same life that Loren Chasse presents in his music. It’s an unusual sort of life, easy to miss despite its ubiquity. Gnarled tree trunks, stones worn into smooth ovals, driftwood piled into broken lattices; by definition these are dormant and inanimate things, but Chasse listens and composes with a heuristic ear. Along and above the Olympic Peninsula’s jagged shoreline, small commotions lie in wait, accompanied by the constant pulse of the ocean. Tucked away at the foot of a national forest, in the wreckage of a glacial waterway, they are all but invisible. The circumstances of their appearance depend on close listening, on the slowing down of time, and on a willingness to hear the depth of music that subsists in the tiniest places.

Unfathomless

The “character” in Characters at the Water Margin is ambiguous. Does Loren Chasse think about this album in terms of its material qualities, like hard and soft and smooth and rough? The sounds he focuses on, largely tactile and granular, definitely support that view. Or is his subject a place and a time in the personal sense, as if coastal Washington were a character in a story or the identity of a person that lives not too far away? The liner notes and album art, as well as the music, support that interpretation too.

The answer is probably both. Field recordings near the mouth of the Hoh River are the material for and the subject of this album, and Chasse blends the two indiscriminately. The foamy rush of ocean waves, the rough crack of dry timber, and the chalky mineral sound of granite and shale pop out in these songs, as does the manner in which Chasse has altered and layered them. Even within the same song, his recordings are sometimes clear and sometimes opaque, either finely detailed or muddied by the movement of wind, a lack of visual context, or by the muffled quality of the recordings themselves. The mix remains sparse almost the entire time, however, and often borders on the silent. The idea is to listen closely, to hear all the little details in whatever way they are presented. That includes hearing Loren Chasse in the background, interacting with and observing his surroundings.

Those interactions include some amount of post-production, though it is hard to say whether or not Chasse could have affected the album’s most unnatural sounding noises, like the mysterious electric hum at the beginning of “Handfuls on an Edge of Foam,” on site. Guessing whether this sound or that sound occurred in studio or in the field obscures the point anyway. The presence of the ocean, of the wind, and of flora and fauna is constant. Location matters. What is heard and how it is heard are equally important, but not just in a “guess how he did it” way. Like characters in a novel, the elements in Characters at the Water Margin amass an emotional, or at least a imaginative, power over time. The obviously drummed rhythms on “Ovoids for a Tumbling Pattern,” the cold spray of salt water, and the intermittent call of seagulls all point to and away from themselves, as do the odd spells of static, distortion, and amplified ambiance. At times the music is relaxing, almost meditative, its impressive emptiness an opportunity to shut the rest of the world out. At other times it is alien, as when the shifting rocks and squishy soil suggest the presence and movement of an unimaginable creature.

And it is always colorful. The tide doesn't simply rise and fall, the ocean attacks the land in concentrated surges. The trees don't just rustle when the wind blows, the hollow branches of old wood sing when the air slides over them, and grains of sand and silt fall in avalanches, unearthing a hidden network of debris and corroded artifacts. With the ear pressed so closely to the ground, even the dirt moves and breathes like a living thing. From this perspective the smallest event acquires significance and the world grows that much larger.

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Last Updated on Monday, 30 March 2015 07:43  


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