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Ian Nagoski - Effortless Battle

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Artist: Ian Nagoski

Album: Effortless Battle

Label: Recorded

Review date: Dec. 17, 2003

Ian Nagoski’s latest CD comes with several caveats attached. The first is simple: the relationship between the first piece on the disc, Effortless Battle, and the film by Catherine Pancake which it accompanies, can not be fully experienced. Two stills from the film are included in the packaging of Nagoski’s CD, but they only go part way toward harnessing the effect that the combination presumably evokes.

The second caveat is more dangerous: watch the liner notes. Written by Oliver Alden, they’re sharply perceptive, even as they replicate a too-familiar divide constructed between “us” (those who “get” the work of artists like Nagoski) and “them” (in the liner notes’ instance, “too many cable TV ‘journalists” who “take note that everything is in perpetual flux and wearily indicate that all one can observe is a constant flow of distinct and varying states,” leading Alden to assert that said journalists perceive some kind of “permanence” as the hinge upon which these states are collected). By setting up this simplistic binary between “readings” and/or readers, Alden is on shaky ground. He’s much stronger when he correctly asserts that Nagoski’s work adumbrates the “continuity as well as difference in every changing thing.” Put simply, we’re affixed to an ever-changing same, and Effortless Battle exemplifies that position: a weighty mass of, for want of a more perspicacious term, drones which fluctuate subtly, sounding out angel-sigh tones that shiver with mysterious energy, like a bank of humming harmoniums heard through the never-ending cycle of an electric fan. One can extrapolate outward that Pancake’s film might well include spaces of dense color and fast-flicker imagery, but that’s guesswork

Effortless Battle shifts through several distinct zones. An opening gambit posits a sweeping electronic tone that phases in increasing speed, before it is subsumed under the weight of Nagoski’s dense processing hum. As the piece gathers momentum it fires off rounds of warm electronics that are imbued with an emotional depth that transcends the sterility of so many similar productions. The ace up Nagoski’s sleeve may well be his ability to create works that are rich in formal qualities, yet which never obfuscate emotional content.

The “b-side” on Effortless Battle, a shorter piece entitled “Ripped Steam Hinterland,” restricts its sonic material to sounds sourced from Daniel Conrad’s Wild Wave instrument. It may lack the heavy air of “Effortless Battle”, but this sequel is as affecting, in its own way, more austere, perhaps. The piece works more by implication, by hinting at what could be happening beyond the immediate frame.

By Jon Dale

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