Maria W Horn: Epistasis (LP, Hallow Ground, October 2019)

At last! I’ve been, ah, rinsing this since it came out digitally back in October, but I’ve been holding off on writing about it until I got hold of my vinyl copy, which took a while. It was worth it, since it has unusually helpful sleeve notes.

Anyway, this is a kind of magical record, one which makes fantastic things happen out of tiny moments. The first of these happens a little bit less than two minutes into the ten-minute opening track, Interlocked Cycles I, a piece for Disklavier (an electromechanical player piano) and synthesis. It’s been playing a simple, almost naive little piano line, with some only-just-there synth washes, and then this new synth noise wells up a little louder, and there’s an unexpected note in the melody, and… well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but it makes me catch my breath a little whenever I hear it, and I guess that’s the magic.

The rest of the A-side is taken up with the title track, which Horn describes as an eight-voice double string quartet: the quartets are each violin, viola, cello, and electric guitar, with Horn on viola, I think we can deduce from the notes. It’s a slightly eerie piece, full of strange resonances. Quoting from the sleeve again, it “utilizes evolving progressions in F minor, the idiom being inspired by the sound and harmonic structure of doom and black metal music from the early nineties”, which isn’t something I would have picked up on in a million years, but which makes a great deal of sense. (There’s a slight resemblance to Anna von Hausswolf here, at least in terms of the ideas going on here if not in terms of the actual sounds laid down.)

By this kind of logic it is, of course, a small step from early nineties doom and black metal to the tintinnabuli technique of Arvo Pärt, which is the cited inspiration for Konvektion, the first track on the B-side. This is the most minimal work on the record, consisting of long chords held on the organs and those feather-light synthesized notes again, with all the business going on in the harmonics and resonances. If that makes it sound dryly theoretical then I’m sorry, because it has a kind of hypnotic appeal.

The final track is Interlocked Cycles II, which is the slightly darker twin of the opening number.

Huh, I’ve gone on for ages about this record, and I still feel like I’ve only just scratched it’s surface. It’s a thing of subtlety and beauty that combines seemingly simple elements to quietly spell-binding effect.

I bought this from the label’s Bandcamp page.

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