In 2005, the duo of Erik K. Skodvin and Otto Totland released Pale Ravine, their first full-length LP under the moniker Deaf Center. Of its ilk, the album was a critical and commercial success, providing the then nascent Type label with one of its first major successes. Much has occurred between Pale Ravine’s release and now — several Skodvin solo releases as Svarte Greiner, the first CD release from Erik’s Miasmah label, an Otto Totland LP with Nest — but Deaf Center were conspicuously silent throughout.
So of course, when news dropped of a new Deaf Center release for 2011, it was met with great excitement. But with a six-year lapse between releases, how would Owl Splinters fair with the current climate of ambient music?
Unsurprisingly, Owl Splinters maintains the basic instrumentation of Pale Ravine: Skodvin on cello, Totland on piano, each contributing a healthy dose of drones and assorted noises. These fundamentals interact in the ambient-cum-classical structure that the duo helped to popularize on Pale Ravine, subsequently spawning countless dunces juxtaposing a sleepy synth against a pedestrian, impressionistic violin. On Pale, this often took the form of lush, neo-romantic string accompaniment to a piano lead, which by most accounts seemed to resemble a ‘chilling’ David Lynch score. While a dark theme was apparent, the acoustic instrumentation largely betrayed the murky subtleties of their evocative drones and delicate field recordings.
Owl Splinters is more cohesive in this regard. Although the same, teetering-on-trite, fin-de-siècle piano lines are ever present, Skodvin’s cello is employed in a far more affecting and harrowing manner. Instead of inappropriately recalling strings two centuries prior, Skodvin takes his cues from composers much more contemporary. By placing greater emphasis on the timbres of his cello, Skodvin dourly resonates akin to the destructive viola of Horaţiu Rădulescu’s Das Andere and in a fashion more befitting Erik’s surroundings
Unlike Pale Ravine, Owl Splinters features both Skodvin and Totland in solo settings. These instances of combined effort benefit from Deaf Center’s first in-studio production, eschewing the lower fidelity of Pale Ravine’s design. On “New Beginning (Tidal Darkness),” thundering basses bow against the upper registers with enough vivre to aptly capture the cinematic scope that these musicians clearly desire. Owl Splinters’ centerpiece “The Day I Would Never Have” slowly swells into a visceral, clear squalor, only to fizzle into airy drips and Totland’s strongest piano contributions. Skodvin and Totland appear to take notice of how moving “The Day I Would Never Have’s” formula is and distastefully apply it again to “Close Forever Watching,” except this time with far less intricacies.
These aforementioned virtuoso moments, in addition to the excellent “Animal Sacrifices,” are likely to titillate Deaf Center devotees and convert more than a few nonbelievers. However, the dull interludes and derivative sound of “Close Forever Watching” prevent Owl Splinters from achieving the promise intimated by its standouts. It’s a noticeable improvement over Pale Ravine, but perhaps not what one might expect after six years of hibernation.