Anyone who has seen the raging cacophony produced by Justice Yeldham in full glassface flight will be aware that, in the right hands, the most basic of materials can produce astonishing results. With just a few effects pedals and a shard of broken glass, Yeldham produces a howling sonic vortex that makes artists with table tops full of kit, expensive laptops or high-end modular synths look like mere pretenders. Arran Poole, who works under the Wóma alias, is another example of someone who transforms humble materials into beautiful and challenging works of sonic art. Poole uses a large sheet of stainless steel, fashioned into an instrument called the Bow Chime, to create fields of deep, resonant drones. As an aesthetic, it’s a little more refined than Yeldham’s – Poole’s Bow Chime is a carefully-crafted instrument as opposed to Yeldham’s hunk of trashed silicate, producing meditative drones rather than churning noise. In fact, Poole is probably better described as part of a tradition of artists that include Harry Bertoia and Bob Rutman – part instrument makers, part sound sculptors – for whom an unerring focus on the particular sonic properties of their creations, and the base materials from which they are drawn, yields beautiful and idiosyncratic results.
In Drán & Ongalnes, Poole conjures layered, hazy resonances from his instrument, fashioning them into five long pieces that, thanks to the variety and arrangement of his sound sources, combine a startlingly unique sound with a deep emotional punch. Sure, the rumbles, groans and cries that Poole coaxes from the Bow Chime do, sometimes, resemble like other sound-making devices. The long, pure bass tones that fade in and out occasionally have the woody moan of a sustained cello arco, for example. Higher-register tones seem to play out with the heart-rendering melancholy reminiscent of an Arabic scale. But really, Poole’s creation sounds like nothing else, not least because those more overtly familiar sonic tropes often seem to float in the midst of a field of ominous reverberations, like odd trees growing in a metallic fog. These evolving, layered explorations have a heft, even at their most intangible and echoey, that marks them out from ostensibly similar works borne from the depths of a hard drive.
There’s something, too, in the way Poole summons these sounds that avoids even the most typically abrasive screech that characterises Bertoia’s sound sculpture work. Perhaps it’s the resemblance to voices that characterises many of Poole’s conjurations – indeed the album’s title comprises the Old English words for drone and voice. Yet even at their most vocalistic, Poole’s conjurations barely sound human. Instead, he seems to be channelling the song of the steel itself, a melancholy, heart-breaking lament that carries within in the memories of those primal iron atoms, locked within the womb of earth’s crust.