Norwegians Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland (aka Deaf Center) take a huge step beyond their Neon City EP with the stunning Pale Ravine, a 52-minute suite of twelve haunted soundscapes. Though the term “cinematic’ is often thrown about cavalierly, it definitely applies here, and in more unique manner than the norm. Usually the term connotes “wide-screen ambiance’ but in Deaf Center’ case it means portentous and disturbing, with the vertiginous experience of listening to Pale Ravine aurally analogous to viewing a harrowing horror film. In â€œLoft,â€ for example, knocking noises suggest shadowy images of a serial killer stalking prey while abstract noises evoke the writhing shuffles of the deranged and crippled figure.
Once again blending elements of classical and electronic musics, Skodvin and Totland coil their dark clusters of strings so densely, the effect is claustrophobic, even suffocating. The duo deepens the ethereal ambiance with field elements (flies buzzing, storm noises) and decrepit sounds of rusty machinery, battered records, and ancient pianos. Guttural cello scrapings, sharp string stabs, and bell tinklings converge into noirish streams of thick velvety ambiance. Piano notes rumble through the sinister â€œStone Beacon,â€ while â€œWeirâ€ exudes a strong industrial character until its pulsing loops drown under the gargantuan bulk of string masses. In the portentous â€œThread,â€ thunderous crackle smothers string-drenched smears, with bright, knife-edged tones ringing forth as they dartingly escape from the broiling mass below. Yet while Skodvin and Totland prove themselves masters at sculpting ominous ambiance, they’re smart enough to leaven the darkness with sunlight too. They follow â€œThreadâ€ with â€œWhite Lake,â€ a waltz whose solemn piano themes and warm acoustic bass offer diametric contrast to the threatening atmospheres preceding it. Similarly, the duo closes the set with â€œEloy,â€ a gentle coda that rescues the listener from the dark Poe-like pit inhabited by the other material. Be forewarned: play Pale Ravine at night with the lights off and rest assured your dreams will be disturbed, if, that is, you’ll be able to sleep at all.