Broken Harbour: Gramophone Transmissions (2011)
There is something wonderfully incongruous about listening to these ambient meditations of Blake Gibson, aka Broken Harbour, like hanging out in a 19th century parlor with a DJ. The style is classically minimalistic, a small number of cycling motifs gradually morphing from one texture to the next. The pieces evolve slowly--and deep listening is required to let them play out their own logic. For a variety of reasons, I highly recommend headphones--and no distractions--to properly hear this music. Among other things, headphone listening will reveal the fascinating play of sound in the stereo field; it's dynamic and three-dimensional. Really nice mixing and mastering.
In Gramaphone Transmissions, the sonorities have been assembled from a variety of sources. One can almost work out what classical music phonograph records were sampled--splashes of impressionistic and bitonal harmonies suggest composers like Gustav Holst, but Broken Harbour has layered the loops so artfully that where the original sounds leave off and where his own tracks begin is hard to say. It's a kind of like sonic steampunk—pristine digital sampling and gritty analog recording combined. The album art—to die for, by the way—expresses this same artful melding of anachonistic elements.
It took the recording industry decades to evolve from scratchy 78s, and Broken Harbour evokes the history of the medium—and the history of music--to create an effect that I find very compelling in this album—old and new reflecting and illuminating one another. Modern digital recording is pristine, but we tend to take that for granted. It takes an artist (with guts!) to layer in the gritty sound of early analog records and thereby etch a patina of sonic noise in front of the perfect orbs that hover and glow behind them. Like a philosophical "Cloud of Unknowing," that requires a seeker to project his spiritual aspirations beyond the mists of our limited minds, we are asked to listen through a veil, and the added strain somehow makes the clear vision of the music all the more beautiful. This recording deserves--and even requires—repeated listening to reveal itself fully. It's a worthwhile journey, one that delights me both as a composer and a listener. Bravo!