Chicago-based Reid Karris is quietly putting out a string of excellent releases in the electroacoustic vein. Focusing on guitars and percussion, his material falls in various places on the spectrum between free improv and composition. On this, his latest recording, Karris continues exploring sound collages not unlike those of Tod Dockstader or the Colorado avant-rock group Biota.
The music of Arbor Philosophica reflects the ancient idea that celestial bodies emit signature tones based on their orbital revolutions, as well as have alchemical associations with certain metals. The result, in Karris’s words, is “one score to create a drone that shifts through a progression of tones as one travels from one side of the solar system to the other.”
While the 14 pieces on the album could be viewed in relation to this grounding, the recording as a whole exhibits a great deal of cross-track similarity. As one moves from piece to piece, the overarching approach and feel remains consistent. Karris makes heavy use of unstructured percussion, samples, and processed guitar. There are no melodies or rhythms per se. The instruments and effects melt together in a way that is reminiscent of backmasking – indeed, some of these tracks could probably be played in either direction. Thus, there is a great deal of variety within each piece, even as they combine to form a congruous whole.
Karris certainly has captured an otherworldliness that reinforces his chosen themes. Nonetheless, Arbor Philosophica is not out of line when compared to some of his previous releases. Another strong effort from a modern musician / composer who deserves a much wider audience.