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Scott Solter - One River

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Artist: Scott Solter

Album: One River

Label: Tell All

Review date: May. 26, 2006


A smooth flow of pure tone, stretched from end to end of this atmospheric disc; its slow-evolving notes diverging into rainbow arrays of related sounds. The record's floating auras are sourced, the liner notes say, from ordinary instruments voice, guitar and bowed cymbals but processed to the point where all points of origin disappear. If you can imagine the pure abstraction of middle C, without the intermediation of breath or fingers touching strings or any effort at all, that's essentially the sound of One River.

One River is clearly influenced by William Basinski's glacially paced dreamscapes; even the album title is most likely a reference to The River. The two artists share a love of slow-morphing hallucinogenic sounds, lovely by themselves, but too gradual in their changes to ever coalesce into recognizable melody. However, while Basinski finds epiphany in static distortion, Solter's compositions are almost surreally clean. His work has an effect you might have noted in certain works of literature Murakami, for instance where pellucid language describes very strange events and somehow makes them even stranger.

That extreme clarity comes perhaps from Solter's background as an engineer. One of the go-to guys at SF's Tiny Telephone, he is known for the space and purity of his recordings for John Vanderslice, Spoon, The Court & Spark and others. Vanderslice calls Solter a "conceptualist"; that is, before beginning, he can articulate his approach to recording any song in a few words. The recording process simply translates those words about mood, flow and instrumentation into sounds. So it is perhaps important to recognize that One River is intended, conceptually, to be just what the title implies a liquid flow of sensations, layered with currents and undercurrents, but transparent enough to perceive the various eddies and flows of sound simultaneously.

On those terms, it succeeds. One River sounds just like a moving stream of sound. Still you have to ask yourself "How long can I sit there and stare at a river?" Because the downside is that nothing much happens in this record. One cuts slips stealthily into the next, to the point where you'll have a hard time pinpointing where one track ends and another begins. As an experiment, I tried this CD on shuffle to see if the transitions were any more perceptible when they were random. Actually not much. It's all the same thing with minor variations, over and over.

That said, One River has an almost physical effect on listeners, slowing the pulse, deepening the breath and stopping the chatter in your head. You're not going to be singing any of these cuts in the shower -- in fact, if you can tell one from another after less than 20 listens, you're ahead of me. However, this stasis, this lack of dramatic change or recognizable melody, can be beautiful. You'll just have to slow way down to see it.

By Jennifer Kelly

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