After having listened to combinations of frequencies that instantly make sense, connecting with a different order of priorities without apparently altering what was already working, the urge of telling about the experience to someone who can understand becomes stronger. Such is the case of Billows, the debut CD as a composer of clarinettist Carol Robinson, until now principally present in this reviewer’s memory as a regular performer of Phill Niblock’s scores. Let’s be perfectly clear from the start: this album is an instant addition to the “get-a-copy-soon” list, in the hope that it is just the beginning of a path that looks pre-established, with a definite aim.
Robinson is deeply linked with the conceptions of Giacinto Scelsi, who offered a veritable authentication of her thinking of music (“an opening toward something beyond our reality”). However, among the influences declared by this Paris-based American artist, the winds of South Dakota - where she lived as a young girl - represent the most important. Indeed Billows resonates splendidly exactly for its correspondence to the “composite minimalism” of this natural phenomenon. Gently intertwining, caressing breezes on the skin while standing in contemplation under a warm sun, no urban or human presence, only the listener and the cosmos at large. This is what a sensitive subject will probably wish when inhaling this music, possibly alone, in full quietness. Entirely linear or slightly gliding, these overtone-fuelled whispers are thoroughly marvellous, an important message to the people who keep blathering around “vibration”, absolutely unaware of the word’s actual implications.
In technical terms – which almost equals swearing, given the purity of the resulting sounds – Robinson utilized exclusively clarinets (precisely, basset horn or birbyne) smoothly enhanced by a Max/MSP live electronic system. The outcome’s unpretentiousness teaches a lesson to those musicians who allow the computer to do everything, thus killing the potential spiritual traits of a work. Despite the absence of immediately recognizable clarinet pitches – except perhaps for the initial part of “The Lingering”, where the instrument’s real voice is clearly audible – the sonic occurrences are acknowledged as innate, akin to something we were raised to - and still necessary. One couldn’t really match this up to the aforementioned Niblock, or Alvin Lucier, in spite of the typical adjacent-tone quivering produced by some of these pieces. Robinson’s approach is not that manifest: it’s less physical, seemingly informed by meditation and reminiscence and, in that logic, maybe closer to the essence of Eliane Radigue’s concentrated transcendence. This, ultimately, renders the whole effective in an utterly new way. And this, too, is what we call an individual style, not the least because the tracks are very short in comparison to the lengthy distances privileged by the others. Also, that this woman has waited so long for deciding to release her own material is testimony to a rare wisdom.
Either via speakers (recommended - and in “repeat” mode, of course) or headphones, the influence of Billows on my psychophysical organization has been incredible in barely three days of listening. The importance of this kind of event in a receptive person’s life can’t be stressed enough. Near silence, and even further. It is all extraordinarily beautiful, an inherent gratitude perceived as the heartbeat frequency decreases.