I heard a wheeze at the far edge of the woods and ducked my head, for once not absurdly trying to focus in on a sound with my eyes. I made my ear a microphone and held it aloft, but the earth nerved up into silence under my scrutiny. I knew the sound wasn’t animal, and it wasn’t wind either (the day was still). It was like the whimpering echo of a sound of deep-in-the-crust industry, ancient plates grinding and dead-end pockets of frigid space gasping for new air. There was a smell that came with the sound. It was of musty old sponge and fried electricity, and an unwelcome sort of sweetness — like fried dough and pig shit, but not that exactly. My senses began failing in answer to this smell. I felt something crawl up my sleeve and found nothing. I heard the town church bells and found myself checking if my radio was on. I willed wind into my sensory comprehension and it was there, ruling out the fleeting notion that the ground was trying to get a word in. The smell faded. I gazed upward and watched the tall trees move in my wind. I sucked in a dry laugh, calmly wincing at the hokey thematic resonance.
I went self-aware into solitary places and found myself lost. The musical compositions and films of Christina Vantzou have a way with conveying the allure in this sort of bracing inanity. Some of us will wander. It is not for anyone to say that this is not one of the many paths to grace in a given lifetime. Or, having failed to find that grace, that the wandering isn’t still worthwhile. Vantzou’s patient, contemplative pieces could easily overtake a typical dramatic turn. If they were scoring footage of shaking fists gradually dissolving into outstretched hands, the effect would be heightened to signify something well beyond the letting go of anger. Past the obvious trait (one native to much of Kranky’s output) of placid dissonance, these are stately portraits of turning away in slight dance, of listing out of frame. The symmetry of the melodic figures is reassuring while the textures are shiveringly tactile. You have your moment, and then this music has its benign yet shrewdly attentive moment with your moment.
Seven years after the superb 2004 collaborative album with the like-minded Adam Wiltzie (Stars of The Lid) as The Dead Texan, Vantzou began releasing a series of numbered albums with accompanying DVDs of her staggeringly gorgeous, often slow-motion video companion pieces (some of which can be seen here). Much like the searching, wallpaper-resistant drones, the artist’s visual works engage with and outside of human emotion. There is wonder, but there is also the inevitable encroaching of the commonplace. That dully thudding wall of when familiarity ceases to comfort. The remembrance of dignity in a disgraceful state. Being one with nature yet alien to it, the moss and bark seemingly shrinking from your touch. Running water hurries to lose its shape, always escaping explicit expression. This self-expression in cautious, exceedingly considerate communion with the elements. The distance the work connotes as a reverent mask to facilitate fuller immersion.
As the melancholic chords struck don’t vary much (from song to song or album to album), there is a sort of malaise that can set in for the listener. However, Vantzou’s strict adherence to the same few notes also provides a bed on which a limber-minded individual can take curious wing. The progressions may carry that familiar somber ring of the unknown or the elegiac, but where you wind up is more to do with glimpsed intrigue. You’re a night bird, witnessing a strange congregation in your peripheral vision as you soar above the treeline. In your mind, the peripheral expands and the heart flutters, but soon you are already past it and the blur grows with every beat of your wings. The unknown is given a needle-slight shape, and the elegiac gives way to turgid, wind-burned resolution. You’re not going into the light, just reflexively trying to absorb its vitality. The effort may be in vain, but you are blessed with no such notion. Better than some run-of-the-mill melodrama, this music feels like the score to the world’s least contextual nature documentary. No narration, minimal editing, and the most unobtrusive observation possible. And pretty much all night-time or approaching-night footage. It is a place of cool fascination amidst all the distressed awareness that enshrouds our waking hours and dogs our dreams.
Each of these collections are meticulously arranged, but Nº 3 shows the most eclecticism, particularly in its more explicit use of synthesizers. And I’m happy to say it’s in the tradition of the most lucid of early electronic composition (like that of track two’s namesake, Laurie Spiegel) rather than the more self-indulgent experiments of the period. Also new to her palette is plucked strings (“The Library”), guest collaboration (Loscil, on the muffled grandeur of “Stereoscope”), and Penderecki-sized dread in a three-minute package (another pessimistic hat in the ring about “The Future”). Although the loaded titles don’t illuminate the largely elusive compositions, the numbered releases suggest a humbly ambitious drive on the part of the artist to let her output be a continuum, rather than a series of timely statements. Just as the work is the sounds and vision of due diligence in the realms of the lost, its presentation is both formal and adventurous. Christina Vantzou’s albums continue to be a well-appointed clearing in which to both tentatively grasp at reason and revel in its absence. A subconsciously magnetic force in meditative sound if there ever was one. An imperceptibly tremoring place of stolen serenity. I’ll meet you/lose you there.