Deaf Center - "New Beginning (Tidal Darkness)" (Owl Splinters)
In an age of electro-acoustic everything, Deaf Center permeates the boundary with a delicate touch. Some of the songs within Owl Splinters rely on a bed of electric hum to support the instrumental acoustics. Others flip the script with a foundation of acoustic sounds buoying electronic-derived noises. This gently rocking seesaw of songcraft gives the music of this Norwegian duo fluidity. As they strip away some of the cinematic-ness of their 2005 record, Path to Lucy, their fabric of opposing sounds becomes even more diaphanous.
The sharpening of the acoustic precision on Owl Splinters is most likely due to their move out of lo-fi recording processes and into a studio proper. Otto Totland’s piano and Erik Skodvin’s cello incorporate a number of hues throughout the record. Skodvin’s strings scrape through the upper register on the opening track, “Divided,” but provide long, flowing tenor tones to the closer, “Hunted Twice.” He even enters into World of Echo Arthur Russell territory during the slowly deteriorating “Animal Sacrifice.” Totland typically prefers the moody melodies and anachronistic vignettes only possible with a delicately resonant upright piano (see: “Time Spent”), but he also understands its power as a bass voice with the wholly enveloping tremors that introduce “New Beginning (Tidal Darkness)” and interrupt “Close Forever Watching.”
The centerpiece of all this seems to be “The Day I Would Never Have.” It’s the lengthiest piece, and it incorporates all the aspects of the Deaf Center sound. The track opens with a muted piano melody, which almost immediately begins to fray at the ends with electronic manipulation. A textured cello arises from below, completely ousting the acoustic piano with a throbbing low-end hum until sheets of guitar noise overtake it. The final swell, underpinned with a sedate bass rhythm, is practically molten in its unstable bulge of sounds. Hints of naturally acoustic sounds are there, but it’s nearly impossible to separate them from the mix. And to bring it all full-circle, the track rounds out with a glistening piano melody that almost drips from your speakers.
Deaf Center had the honor of being TYPE001, the Neon City EP, back in 2004. While not solely responsible, this introduction perfectly encompassed what the Type Records sound would become: ambient electronica, drone, contemporary classical, field recordings and melodic melancholy, all rolled into one. Seven years and 80 releases later for the British imprint, the Norwegian duo sound just as appropriate on the label they helped launch. Hopefully, their leadership role continues and the label’s roster keeps up. Owl Splinters is a testament to what practiced musicianship, studio know-how and an ear for textured complexity can accomplish.