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Tilth - Angular Music

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Artist: Tilth

Album: Angular Music

Label: Soft Abuse

Review date: Feb. 15, 2013

What if echoes were not the end of something, but the beginning? What if they were not a reflection, but an expansion? What if echoes told us not that something is dying, but that it is living? These are the questions invoked by the slow, cyclic music of Tilth, the duo of Nathan McLaughlin and Cody Yantis. Over this LP’s seven concise pieces, pitched somewhere between improvisations and electroacoustic miniatures, the pair chase echoes — physical as well as metaphysical.

Their tools are modest. There are simple melodies on guitar, crests of feedback, saturated tape loops, radio grabs, domestic recordings, even snatches of piano, banjo and fiddle. But the duo’s focus is not on the tools themselves; it’s on their gentle, dialogic overlap. McLaughlin and Yantis discover happy accidents, hidden patterns and mysterious, asymmetric musical phrases. There’s familiarity in the music, but not predictability. I imagine the two even surprised themselves more than once during recording.

The pair have said they were inspired by Bill Dixon’s idea of going to the center. In practice Tilth’s music sounds nothing like Dixon’s. It lacks the layers of rhythmic tension and ornate density so unique to the trumpeter/composer’s works. Instead, what they have picked up on is the diffuse nature of Dixon’s trumpet playing, capturing its essence more than its sound. Specifically, they build on the way Dixon floats one idea into an imagined, reverbed space, then moves on to another and another, until all the ideas seem to be present at once, sonic memories existing as drifting, idiosyncratic improvised counterpoint. The effect is not confusion but meditative focus: thoughts emerge and recede without judgement or hierarchy. It creates a space that has no beginning or end yet still feels definite. It goes, as Dixon says about his own painting, ”beyond abstraction.”

On Angular Music, you hear McLaughlin and Yantis find this space on “First Breath,” where events bloom across the stereo picture in a kaleidoscope of seemingly unrelated phrases. It’s there in the delicate swells of “In Vein” and the crushing crescendos glimpsed on “Drisk.” Every sound feels deliberately placed yet not forced or contrived. Each phrase suggests its own world while remaining connected to the next.

So this is not process music, but music about a process — Tilth’s process of listening to their own echoes, to their own reverberations and reflections of each other and of their moment. It’s a process that is probably very personal to McLaughlin and Yantis. And if that personal significance feels insular, if it means that most pieces carry the burden of sounding, to outsiders, like fragments, then so be it. If it means we at first think the duo is being humble to a fault, that they have refused to make decisions, have stopped short of doing something with their sounds, then so be it. It takes courage not to judge, to refuse easy choices, to let things come and go. Perversely, it’s by being so unattached to what they create that they make their echoes last longer, give them just enough life to reach us.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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