Federico Durand A Través del Espejo

[12k; 2016]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient tape loops, handmade music, jewelry box
Others: Leafcutter John, amiina, R. Andrew Lee

Assembled from the residue of day-to-day life and neatly presented as such, A Través del Espejo is an album that aspires to demonstrate care and nurturing by way of its composure and pace. On his ninth solo album, Argentinian artist Federico Durand plays found objects that might otherwise appear insignificant or hold minimal value as he grants them a new lease on life through which they are to be sonically explored. The delicate fumbling of bells and toys is combined with piano keys and lyre strings to form a fragile, unperturbed sound that couldn’t be better suited to the 12k canon; scattered across a bed of tape hiss and surface crackle, these tracks tell a story of the humble existence of each instrument while giving rise to the personal spaces from which they have emerged.

The album is patient and gracious for the most part, where ambient chimes peak in and out of playful melody on “Teatro de Sombras (Shadow Play)” or snuggle between thick slabs of static on “Recuerdos en Super 8 (Memories on Super 8).” It’s seemingly designed to invite a feeling of calm while emphasizing the significance of forgotten objects by way of their impact. This allows for sentimental involvement, but it’s also distracting because of the overtones that hover above any appreciation of the album’s composition. I’m reminded of a broken jewelry box that still chimes when it’s opened and pleasant to listen to. Even when the cogs are rusty and it’s out of tune, the experience is one of nostalgia. And yet, it isn’t playing the music as it was heard when opened for the first time, because it’s been altered through age, skewed of intention.

When that experience is adapted for the purposes of a record, the listener’s response can often be quite conflicted. Slumping to one side and getting lost beneath a series of ambient compositions and gently-plucked strings can provide a blissful few moments of respite, but it doesn’t always demand much staying power.

Thankfully, Durand is able to strike a balance between creating that nostalgic vibe and crafting gorgeous tunes. The closing track, “A Través del Espejo (Through the Mirror),” captures the splicing together of tape wrapping around a pair of haggard spools, while anonymous flashes of metallic interjection allow for a tense and restrained setting, as though there is a sense of regret or insecurity in the throes of this project. The track casts doubt on the apparently stable and comforting juxtaposition of minimal strings with a recording of dialogue on “Hora de Dormir (Time to Sleep),” where a baby’s cry and a young girl’s shouts grate against the atmosphere that the preceding tracks construct. It’s a harsh yet masterful touch that permits the listener to experience the uncertainty that exists in later pieces alongside an ostensibly safe, homely setting.

Among that, then, there is an eeriness that demonstrates Durand’s tact as a composer: rather than merely swooning in a giddy headspace of ambient sound, he’s committed to generating environments that reflect a stark and sometimes painful reality. But with A Través del Espejo, that’s not the impression you are initially greeted with; the artist ensures that it needs to be uncovered, in the same way that his found objects were reimagined as instruments within his music. There are hidden treasures here that aren’t as tranquil as they first appear, even as you feel yourself getting lost in them.

Links: Federico Durand - 12k

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