AMN Reviews: 180˚ – Submental [Splitrec 29]

Submental is the sui generis creation of the acoustic Australian trio 180˚. The group’s configuration is unique: bass flute, played by Jim Denley; acoustic guitar (Nick Ashwood); and the voice and words of Amanda Stewart. The eight pieces on Submental aren’t unconventional art songs, although that certainly would be one way to think of them; rather, they’re dynamic scenarios in which the human voice retains its centrality amidst the musical and non-musical sounds that collide and combine around it. Although the group’s sound is collective, Stewart’s vocal presence can’t help becoming the focus of attention: it’s a human voice saying something, even if what it’s saying is at times a sequence of Dadaesque syllables referring to nothing beyond their own sounds. Stewart, like Denley and Ashwood, has a thorough mastery of extended technique and blends in perfectly with their timbre-driven, texturally centered styles. In some of the music’s truly beautiful moments her whispering naturally harmonizes with Denley’s air notes—a reminder that the flute is really just voice once removed. Here as on his other work, Denley displays a technical sophistication and sensitivity in playing on the border between noise and pitch. No less crucial to the collective sound is the rattle and jangle of Ashwood’s guitar, convincingly likening itself to a detuned zither.

Daniel Barbiero