AMN Reviews: The Cloudwatchers – S/T [Unexplained Sounds Group]; Ståle Storløkken – The Haze of Sleeplessness [Hubro HUBROCD2616]

Forms by themselves are inert things: accumulated conventions and materials that, for all their inertia, are nevertheless available to be appropriated and made newly meaningful through the projects and programs that somehow have need of them. The Cloudwatchers, a quartet of musicians working in Spain, and the Norwegian keyboardist/composer Ståle Storløkken each take an awareness of the conventions and materials of classic electronic avant-garde and cosmic music and creatively reimagine them as something authentically their own.

The Cloudwatchers’ membership comprises Andrés Alonso (electric guitar and bass, digital synthesizers and audio processors); Iván Cebrián (analogue synthesizers and audio processors); Coco Moya (voice, analogue synthesizers and audio processors); and Jaime Munáriz (analogue synthesizers, electric guitar and audio processors). The group’s overlapping instrumentation—three of the four play analogue synthesizers, and all four engage in audio processing—doesn’t prevent them from creating rich soundscapes of varying colors. The three long, untitled pieces are constructed around more or less fixed harmonies; as a foundation this may seem simple, but with this kind of music what matters isn’t complex harmonic change but instead changes in texture, timbre and voice. Sometimes, as in the first piece, the voice is human, oscillating in microtones around washes of synthesizer and echo-drenched guitar. The dominant voice on the second piece, by contrast, consists in a modal keyboard melody floating lightly over the gravitas of a slow beat and densely-layered background texture. The closing piece features luminous sounds and culminates in an ostinato for sequencer—a clever recontextualization of an old convention from space music.

Like the Cloudwatchers, Storløkken’s natural point of reference is the classic electronic music of the 1960s and 1970s, but also like the Cloudwatchers, he doesn’t try to recreate those sounds through direct imitation but rather by indirect hint and allusion. With The Haze of Sleeplessness he sets out to make a soundtrack for a non-existent film, the better to let the listener dream his or her own characters, plot and setting. Each of the seven pieces is a tone poem in itself, but taken together, all add up to a collectively coherent suite which—in a coincidental parallel to the Cloudwatchers’ final track–ends in a sequencer-driven flourish.