Steve Flato: Harm Reduction

Studious Avoidance digital album

Two thick slices of gorgeously hazy ambience from Mr Flato from San Diego, very different to the scouring granular noise of last year’s Mara’s Daughters.

Occasionally I get a kind of late-period Kevin Drumm vibe from this, like the frozen stasis of Imperial Distortion or the burning sun near-paralysis of Imperial Horizon. But Flato’s approach seems more forgiving than Drumm’s austere blankness, and I find this more rewarding.

Perhaps it’s the simple use of field recordings that bookend Cerebellum, or the strange sounds at the end of So It Goes – that somehow remind me simultaneously of children’s voices and plastic bath toys being squished – which add that all-important human element to the shimmering synth wash. Or maybe it’s the way Flato resists the temptation to embrace a total drone fugue state and add elements of progression and development that make these recordings so listenable. Whatever it is, I like it.

This two-track album, released on Massimo Magee’s Studious Avoidance micro-label, starts with Cerebellum and those field recordings, a frothy jumble of everyday lives that slowly merge with a  descending piano and synth motif meandering through in a graceful dance. The instrumentation is shrouded in layers of echo – Grouper’s denser works are another touchstone here – and, slowly, the golden fog gets thicker and the human hubbub gets less distinct.

It’s almost imperceptible at first, but this loveliness slowly becomes covered in a blanket of white noise, like a slow dusk spreading across a beautiful landscape in late summer, before darkness finally envelops everything in its tender embrace.  This transition, from melody to noise, works really well, especially as the piece starts to collapse into oblivion mid-way through. The chords that made the first half of the track so warm and fuzzy are still audible even as the digital scree howls and whirls around it.

Finally, however, they are is gone, replaced with base layer of saw-toothed noise and phasing drone above. Proper eye of the storm stuff, but it’s not over yet. In the final seconds, those field recordings reappear and we hear humans again, Mariah Carey singing All I Want For Christmas Is You and a voice (possibly Flato’s?) saying “I think I’ve got all I can get here”.  It’s like waking from a dream.

So It Goes is a shinier beast, its burnished shimmer sending out golden bursts of light in all directions. A slow phase ripples through the body of this piece, almost like a long, slow breath, inhaling and exhaling. Rather than the linear motion of Cerebellum, this is a cyclical motion, twisting and turning in a Moebius strip yet always seeming to return to its point of origin.

There’s an almost palpable warmth about it too, in its gauzy timelessness, reminiscent of those summer days of childhood where time seems to stand still and there is only an eternal, unchanging present. Did those days ever happen? Or is it just the nostalgia of adulthood, a place where everything seems to move so fast? The information blizzard of the present and the future, with old age, illness, death rushing toward us like a steam train.

Is it any wonder, then, that we take solace in music like this, music that offers respite from that infernal velocity? It is, perhaps, our chance to bask on the warm rocks of that barely-remembered summer. To rest our pale bodies on the beach, and feel the sun’s golden kiss, just one more time.

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http://studiousavoidance.bandcamp.com/album/harm-reduction

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