Chambers Sigma Flare 1

[Debacle; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient dub, experimental, noise
Others: Gabriel Saloman, Michael Red, Yellow Swans

The announcement of Chambers, a new duo featuring Gabriel Saloman (noted noise/experimental artist and activist) and Vancouver producer Michael Red (Lighta! Sound, Souns), got me thinking about the current crop of noise musicians venturing into electronic music, and I shuddered a little at the thought. Was this the moment Gabe Saloman would jump the shark, eschewing politically minded experimental music for dancefloor fodder that caters to crowds anxious for “the drop”? Would Michael Red ditch his foggy, low-key ambient and dub productions in favor of the wobbly bass lines that pack in crowds at EDM festivals? On paper, it was a curious move, but that initial anxiety dissipated as soon as I hit play on Sigma Flare 1, an engaging EP of skeletal yet riveting experimental dub that feels more like a deconstruction and re-imagining of Saloman’s and Red’s respective solo works than a simple genre exercise.

Since the majority of the album consists of deep, shuffling bass lines augmented by Saloman’s subtle guitar and electronic work, Sigma Flare 1 has a utilitarian feel, able to recede into the background and complement various activities and contexts. It makes you wonder: Would “00X” work better with a Spaceape-like monologue or a vocal sample over everything? Would the guitars of “313” play better if Saloman were shredding? After listening to the album, the answer to both questions is undoubtedly no. Because when you go beyond a superficial listen, its minimalism, its foregrounding of empty space, becomes the record’s strength. Both Saloman and Red have embraced maximalism and the power of noise at some point in their work, so it’s especially interesting to hear a project that favors a less-is-more approach from start to finish: The 16 minutes of “313” slide deftly but slyly along on an airy dub workout to an understated yet thrilling finale of percussion and electronics. From there, “00X” grows slowly from a lonely, hazy hiss and click rhythm to a stiff set of grim noises, cracks, and pulses. The stirring dub undertones of the first two tracks give way to the ambient-leaning finale, “_E_,” with its mixture of disjointed guitar tones and otherworldly sounds drifting subtly between each other.

Beyond its sonic implications, Sigma Flare 1 reflects a deep consideration of location and influence. The presence of influence is not a means for either Saloman or Red to state “This record channels X album because of Y;” it’s intended to invite the listener to contemplate the very idea of a dub record from Vancouver. Chambers recorded on both the secluded shores and the dense urban grid of British Columbia, which has traces of the kind of electronic dub perfected in Great Britain, itself carrying on the legacy of the Jamaican sound system parties and early remix culture. But Vancouver is also a place where indigenous people had their land and cultures stolen and appropriated by European settlers. This recognition of a place’s history and prior inhabitants — something Saloman has also articulated in his academic work — shifts the listening experience from the visceral enjoyment of deep, hissy, bass-y dub excursions to the contemplation of sounds that have both consciously and unconsciously made it possible for a record like Sigma Flare 1 to exist.

Links: Chambers - Debacle

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