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Artist: Corridors

Album: Corridors

Label: Sedimental

Review date: Feb. 25, 2011


Corridors - "Autoharp, Trumpet, Guitar" (Corridors)


Quadrophonic sound, to most of us born after the 1960s, was always an extinct species, a relic of no little intrigue, but a curiosity all the same, one of those artifacts of our elders’ nostalgia. The popularity of home theater excess has made 5.1-channel surround sound more popular than its four-channel predecessor , albeit primarily for TV and movies. Musical application remains sparse; to the average listener, 5.1 discs are still a novelty, and they’ve never been popular enough to make large-scale production an inviting prospect. That’s a shame, especially in the case of musicians like Byron Westbrook. His Corridors project would benefit greatly from a 5.1-channel rendering, though for obvious reasons, Sedimental has released it in the typical two. Technology’s failure to truly translate a live music experience to disc or tape is well known to even the most casual music fans, but that makes the pangs of disappointment no less acute when something like Corridors comes along. To those who’ve seen these pieces performed live, this disc is probably a handy take-home approximation of the experience. To those who’ve not had the chance (or those who’ve had it and missed it – and your faithful scribe’s hand is in the air here), this CD offers the same approximation, but in a different hue. It’s useful as an appetite whetter, a representation of, but surely not a replacement for, the in-person Corridors experience.

Corridors’ liner notes include mention of a number of electric and acoustic instruments, though Westbrook’s live performances primarily utilize iPods and minidisc players rather than anything featuring a reed, string or key. The playback devices are fed into a five-channel speaker system that surrounds the audience. Westbrook records the musical instruments with care and precision, later processing their output into markedly different forms. With the liner notes as cheat sheets, one can hear the farfisa and viola on the fourth track, or identify the second track as processed feedback, but Corridors’ final product is one in which the origins of the sound are of little importance compared to the music that results.

Westbrook’s sole allowance for onstage instrumentation is the guitar that provides the feedback for the second track’s live improvisation. So, though there’s video accompaniment to each piece, those of us following along at home are mainly missing out on less the visuals than the sonic interplay, the immersion of the listener in a site-specific speaker formation that aims to alter perception of a physical space through the passage of time. A 5.1 mix of Corridors might approximate the experience more accurately, but short of having Westbrook come to your domicile to assess the space and rearrange your speakers for optimum effect, there’d still be a facet of the performance lost in its at-home incarnation.

Corridors, though, isn’t left impotent by the move to two channels. Westbrook has melded multiple representative performances to make each track, and aimed to recreate the experience of sitting amid the performance space with special attention to spatial location across the tracks’ stereo fields. His amorphous amalgamations work best at high volume, where their shimmering beauty is most evident and their collisions and convergences most effective.

That this is some decidedly well-made ambient music should be of little contention. Most importantly, there’s an attention to craft that is often lacking in music of this sort, a palpable sense of moment-to-moment intentionality. Technical constraints and all, Westbrook’s music deserves to be heard. So while it’s not the optimal way to experience Corridors, so long as we keep our glasses half full, this CD is as much a worthwhile alternative as a consolation prize.

By Adam Strohm

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