Low Distance by Deaf CenterRelease date: March 22, 2019
Label: Sonic Pieces
Norwegian duo Deaf Center‘s welcome return with Low Distance, their third full length, is a cause for some quietly understated celebration. A dawn walk through misty woods, a blank stare into the bleak mid distance clutching a hot cup of coffee, that sort of thing. It’s subtle and spacious and has what we might clumsily call a Scandinavian sensibility. Frosty and sparse. Deaf Center are Erik K Skodvin & Otto A Totland. They make elegant ambient music that’s sometimes hardly there at all from Otto’s piano, Erik’s strings (cello and guitar usually), assorted processing and occasional imagined field recordings.
The album opens with, for them, a fairly bold moment like the echo of a trumpet herald bouncing around the walls. Isolated piano notes resound, floating on drone waves. ‘A Scent’ is perhaps a play on words, a nod to standout track ‘Movements/The Ascent’ but it also offers up a way to think about their music which hovers at the edge of your awareness, gently improving the atmosphere like the smell of baking or coffee brewing in the kitchen. Its shifts in sound are like light moving across a room, its hinted stories like blurred old photographs. ‘Entity Voice’ has some of the creeping unease of the quieter moments in John Carpenter’s Halloween soundtrack, repeating piano notes hang in a wide dynamic field. Such cinematic/dark ambient/edge of horror vibes were stronger on their previous album 2011’s stunning Owl Splinters.
For the most part Low Distance is warmer and more minimal. Owl Splinters has the feel of haunted woods, Low Distance seems more interior, almost domestic by comparison. ‘Undone’ is hushed and soft, a pretty reflective pool into which the liquid guitar notes of ‘Gathering’ spatter and drip. Glitch and electrical hum pose as weather and birds. On ‘Red Glow’ they feel like the ghost of a jazz trio wheezing in the still air of a long empty bar. As mentioned ‘Movements/The Ascent’ is an absolute highlight, an emotional, beautifully sculpted piece of hovering string drones, glacial electrical throb and minimal piano. ‘Far Between’ strips everything back to a steady life support rhythm, to click and breath. Finally on ‘Yet To Come’ Totland plays solo piano and the notes flow and tumble from his fingers in a melancholy stream that underscores the minimalism and isolation that came before.
It’s been a long wait for something new from them. Handily, or confusingly, Owl Splinters is also receiving a luxurious re-issue packaged with Twin a drone re-interpretation of the album by Erik under his Svarte Greiner name that originally came with the very first release. Having discovered them through Deaf Center I’ve tended to think of their other work as solo projects but it would be probably be more accurate to describe Deaf Center as something they occasionally do together. Their other records are all worth investigating but when they come together it seems to resonate more strongly, I hope they’re back again sooner this time.