Cat Hope and her Decibel ensemble have been quietly conducting investigations into the nature of sound from their base in Perth for some time, and Stasis Ecstatic, on the brilliantly named Heartless Robot label, lets us hear what they’ve been up to. Pressed onto very heavy vinyl, housed in a monochromatic abstract watercolour sleeve with extensive liner notes and images, this is clearly a labour of love, which is even more evident in the high quality performances.
For such a cold and clinical structural approach the music is surprisingly warm and inviting, never moving beyond a slow crawl, or a dull roar. Containing six pieces, of between 5 and 12 minutes, by members and friends of the ensemble (Hope, Lindsay Vickery, Stuart James, Alan Lamb, Malcolm Riddoch, Julian Day), Decibel work in a contemporary language informed by Cageian experiment and European reductionism and welcoming indeterminate elements. Hope’s Longing uses a graphic score to explore drones and glissandi, voices (winds, strings, Hope’s own wordless voice) beautifully interweaving from foreground to back, rising and falling, with sporadic noisy skronks punctuating the stillness.
Riddoch’s Variations on Electroacoustic Feedback for alto flute, cello and electroacoustics employes Alvin Lucier room resonance to develop a feedback loop of sine-like whines, over which instruments emulate, fade and dance. Flute lines evoke Japonisme orientalism but, matched against feedback trails recalling Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing board, it makes a strange dialogue with the past while remaining cooly alluring. Vickery’s Ghosts of Departed Qualities also uses graphic notation to explore a similar process, here regularly dropping elements to create the Escher Devil’s Staircase effect, creating music completely devoid of hierarchy or progression. Scored for bass flute, bass clarinet, cello and piano, instruments blur into a fluid mass, swishing like the shore, economic touches of piano standing out beautifully.
Julian Day’s Beginning to Collapse sonically recreates the images of exploding buildings provided, yet in slow motion, a low bass rumble, frequent fades and pointillist electric guitar tones oddly recalling a kind of naked and academic Post Punk. Stuart James’s Particle 1 for cymbals and electronics creates a teeming mass of detail from sparse resources, like a more frenzied Having Never Written A Note For Percussion by James Tenney. Alan Lamb, famed for his resonant outback wires, here provides Stuart James with his infinity machine to tinker with, which emits slow spools of similarly wiry tones while its mechanisms remain a mystery.
The title Stasis Ecstatic reveals Decibel’s project and expertly describes their music. Each piece goes nowhere, and yet contains much to joyously get lost in. They sit comfortably alongside similarly subdued music production from the post-Cage generation, from Japanese onkyo improvisers to the Wandelweisser Collective, while having an approach and voice very much their own. Highly recommended and available here http://decibelnewmusic.bigcartel.com/product/stasis-ecstatic.