Southern Lord tends to be know for things of the heavier variety... Jesus that's an understatement – Southern Lord is home to sludgemasters like Earth, the grim, brutal fiends of black metal, and others of their gloomy doomsday lurch that so many of us are crazy for lately. Coming from Southern Lord, then, this first CD release of the previously vinyl-only Triste by Australian guitarist and composer Oren Ambarchi is a bit of a surprise. In Ambarchi's grip electric guitars are stretched to the limits of recognition through digital processing and extremely minimal playing that feels almost like the painterly strokes of a Zen artist.
Part 1 of Triste begins gently, almost like a wind chime swaying slowly in a very light breeze. Shimmering, crystalline guitar tones have been rendered percussive, presumably from digital editing and warbled from digital stretching. The sound Ambarchi conjures here recalls the various glacial sounds of Scandinavian electronic music. Glitches and crackle add depth and complexity. The rhythms have a soothing randomness.
Part 2 introduces discomfort and tension into the mix with dissonant, closely vibrating tones. I immediately thought of Tartini tones - an effect where two tones produce a third whose frequency is equal to the difference between them. In higher registers this third tone becomes audible, especially when the original two tones are split to left and right sides of the stereo spectrum. I did, in fact, throw on my headphones to see if that was what Ambarchi had going on here but it seems as though I was wrong - although there is a third bass tone resonating below the primary two but all three are present in each earphone. The effect nonetheless, is similar.
Eventually some very high-pitched sounds emerge sounding like a cross between crickets and Dr. Who and the 'Tartini' section dissolves. The cricket-like sounds become more frenzied after some time to the point that they begin to sound like a digital rendering of raccoons fucking. The things this man can do with a guitar!
Track 3 is a remix of Part 1, similarly but not equally beautiful. Track 4 ends the album with a remix of Part 2, which is much more palatable to the ear than the original - the dissonant vibrating tones have been downplayed and the frenetic end bit has been replaced with, apropos of the album title, a sad cavernous drone that would sound at home on a Current 93 album.
A powerful album from start to finish, but we've come to expect nothing less from the mighty Southern Lord imprint. Highly recommended for fans of the extended technique school of avant-gardists – artists such as Evan Parker and Christian Fennesz – and for fans of the glacial minimalism of producers like Pansonic or Es, and too for those who adore the difficult sound art of formalists like Ryoji Ikeda.