Improvisations by Rare Form/Mourning Rituals/P. Whitehill

Release date: July 6, 2018
Label: Self-Released

Improvisations is the product of a day’s recording, a meeting of like minds. Anaheim’s Rare Form, comprising Ryan Beitler and Thyme Nord, met with ambient recordist Patrick Whitehill and cellist Jake Ingalls, who goes under the name Mourning Rituals, to play for a day, record the results and let the marvels unfold in our ears. There were deliberately no additional takes or overdubs, instead they chose to “manipulate, sculpt, chop, and engineer electronically” after the event. Inevitably, the result of the Rare Form/Mourning Rituals/P. Whitehill collaboration is like the intersection of a complex Venn diagram. Rare Form’s brooding electronica lurks in the background and the lighter ambience of Whitehill’s work floats above it all while the centre ground is filled by a ton of dark chamber music including the gorgeous deep tones of Ingalls’ cello.

The most dramatic impression one gets on first listen is how restrained the Rare Form side of this improv equation is. The duo’s debut album Six Months in Hiding, released at the start of this year and reviewed elsewhere on this site, is an exercise in barely restrained sonic violence hidden from plain view by a veil of ambient electronica. The veil is ripped apart by periodic interludes of thunderous riffing. I commented at the time that it was like the soundtrack to a horror movie. For Improvisations it’s like they kept the RF contingent caged in the corner of the room, let out only when they promised to play nice. That glowering threat of RF’s debut is much more restrained, replaced by a more brooding contemplation. More like a psychological thriller. It has its moments, though. The second half of ‘Reckless Shadows Triumph’ turns up the tension with a feedback-drenched melody played out on guitar, bass and piano. Follow up ‘Constance’ is an even darker beast.

The pulsing ambience is coupled with a light touch given to the instrumentation, perhaps as the four improvising musicians circle each other, responding to each other’s forays into melody. Various tracks have violins and cello with feedback, plus piano interludes. All the time there’s a background of swirling noise, just out of reach. This ambient backdrop to the instrumentation being played in the room gives it a mystical feel, like the listener is removed, not quite in the moment. In this regard the whole album is like being in a dream state.

There’s light and shade. ‘Monolith in C’ starts the album and lives up to its title, beginning with an ominous slab of brooding dirge. It stops halfway with electronic glitches, and is then followed up by ambience. I don’t know how much chopping there has been, whether these parts were played in the order they’re presented, but the tracks appear fully formed, with titles and all (except the rather gorgeous and enigmatically named ‘Untitled’, which doesn’t have a title…). Closer ‘Vociferator’ has a stalking, ponderous groove played out on the cello that is the very essence of enticing drone, but which is sadly over too soon.

The complex Venn diagram of three very different bands combines here and Improvisations is a product of four collective imaginations. I like the idea of just playing together to see what happens. It produces a different form of musicality to hear musicians reacting on the fly to what others are playing. And this product of just a day’s recording is well worth a listen. There’s a cassette version out 10 September, too.

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