AMN Reviews: Natasha Barrett / Tanja Orning – Symbiosis (2002; Bandcamp)

Symbiosis was composed by Barrett back in 2002 and was originally released on Orning’s Cellotronics album in 2005.  This version has updated electronics and is a terrific 18-minute portrait of Barrett’s use of current sound processing and spatialization technology along with Orning’s fiery cello playing.  I’ve never heard the 2005 release so I can’t compare the two.

What I can say is Symbiosis is yet another extremely strong release from the Barrett camp.  To think that she has since followed this up with a full-length album (Heterotopia, write-up coming) on the Persistence of Sound label has uplifted her output to the “embarrassment of riches” level.

Symbiosis, defined as a mutually beneficial interaction between two different organisms within proximity is an apt title on a couple of levels.  Obviously, the cello/electronics fusing works beautifully here.  Taken separately, Orning’s very dexterous and quite aggressive attack plays very nicely with Barrett’s own unique sound processing.  If you are familiar with Barrett’s recent work (like the amazing Leap Seconds album, for example) you’ll find that many of her hallmark motifs make an appearance here.  Subsonic thunder, ghostly voices at times insubstantial, barely corporeal at other times, relentless and driving waves of mechanical contraptions, veneer’s of eerily sustained mid-ranged drones, violent, gasp-inducing crescendos of processed sounds…all essential parts and pieces are here, and they are all moved around the listening landscape compliments of her deft mixing.  Barrett’s idea of spatialization and her ability to create a breathtaking 3D sonic space are in full bloom on this release.

So, the symbiotic act displayed here works flawlessly but, what about the result?  The parts and process are one thing…the final creation is something else completely.  Remember, symbiosis is MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL for both parties.  Experiencing Symbiosis from a perspective of a single “new” entity (and maybe a new way of “hearing” it) is as much of a rewarding journey as breaking it down into its separate parts.  For me, this meant hearing it a few times since it’s very hard NOT to hear (and marvel at, I might add) the individual inputs from Barrett and Orning.  Unsurprisingly, the transformed work is more than its individual parts.  In the case of Symbiosis, we are left with a stunning work that succeeds on an emotional, physical and imaginative level and receives a two strong thumbs-up recommendation.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @Bigaudio999