Music Reviews

Ian William Craig Centres

(Fat Cat/130701) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

It’s something of a risk for composer Ian William Craig to go against his academic training. The classical trained opera singer has made a name of himself for constructing music pieces out of the mechanics of vintage technology. The terminology is supposed to sound technical and impenetrable, which can lead the music to lose some of its humanity. His work is akin to the likes of contemporaries like William Basinski, Max Richter, and James Leyland Kirby, artists who etch out sound sculptures out of analogue synthesizers, tape decks, and vintage recordings.

After releasing a pair of albums for art collective Recital Program, Craig is joining Fat Cat’s experimental imprint 130701 for Centres, a 70-minute-plus piece that should further magnify his presence as a deconstructionist whose arrangements divert any explicit statement. There’s some implicit meaning behind Centres, and one can deduce as such with its overbearing glumness, but Craig is able to make something miraculous out of the irrevocable void: to find a true north through an economy of language.

Centres treats patience with painstaking rectitude, but more so seeks a transversal quality in its elegiac movements. Contain - Astoria Version quickly defies any conventions with a fragmented vocal performance that elevates its ambient uniformity with a heaving pulse. It transforms midway with hardly any notice like a violent hum, equally serene yet almost boiling with sweltering intensity. It may just be Craig’s most important piece yet, clearly a sign of an artist who wants to capture some beatific release.

But Centres is anything but lively - the funereal A Single Hope is the closest he’s come to writing a proper song, as it falls somewhere between Low’s muted tempos and Jesu’s use of crackling dissonance. The soundscape he creates does give a scrupulous air, but it’s also constantly engaging and even coltish. He uses his vocal prowess in the most crucial moments, and with hardly any notice, usually in an attempt to reel us back in from an all-encapsulating piece that tends to get lost: The Messenger features Craig’s shifting glissando before the assonant drone work completely usurps his otherwise careful articulation, while Purpose (Is no Country) is the sole moment in Centres where he proudly exhibits his choral acumen.

There’s a lot to take in within Centres’ fascinating contours, as it constantly morphs into different classical concepts, mostly of a minimal nature, without ever dismissing the album’s sunless vacuum. After Craig takes us into a doom-laden journey that never ceases to lose momentum, constantly frayed and with hardly any semblance of order, the shockingly unornamented closer, Contain - Cedar Version, is a simple folk song that has him at his most poised. This could very well be considered the end of some personal arc for Craig, one that is mostly ill-defined but all the better for it.

Centres has the ability to both mollify and unnerve, and to think that most of it was assembled through sensitive means speaks volumes of Craig’s greater ambitions. Most daunting of all, it is an onerous experiment that, even if handled with a heavily textured stroke, offers a sentient feeling in a canvas of sweeping sound. [Believe the Hype]