Yves de Mey Drawn with Shadow Pens

[Spectrum Spools; 2016]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: live take, eai, synthesis
Others: Giuseppe Ielasi, Jason Lescalleet, Rashad Becker

On his first album for Spectrum Spools, acclaimed synthesist and sound-designer Yves de Mey presents a collection of live recordings that he initially captured in mono, all in a single take. The album permits the Belgian producer to demonstrate instrumental mastery alongside an ability to fine-tune his work using improvisation to create moments of tension, beauty, and frustration within the trappings of his craft.

The ensuing tracks are bold and detailed. They carefully define a range of sonic textures and frequencies while exploring their limitations, as de Mey refrains from broadening his artistic approach to include any composed elements. Improvisation can often yield exceptional work, where the boundaries and constraints of composition take a backseat and the artist is able to wield their sonic arsenal through transient feelings and gestures. de Mey achieves this here with fantastic insight, which results in an interesting sonic experiment and a cautiously refined aesthetic.

The use of visual signifiers to title these improvised works seems highly appropriate, but each track appears to be more like a sketch than a drawing. They are free-form responses emerging from an acute realization of the artist’s capability and creative passion, while they equally exhibit the restrictions of his self-imposed frontiers. From the listener’s perspective, it’s easy to get lost in the winding paths of fractured sound and static that weave and dodge set narratives — the sounds are spawned from the artist’s instinct, darting between sharp bursts of noise, mechanical whirring, and tides of drone.

However, in some cases, de Mey is limited by his own conceptual margins. While speaking with Fifteen Questions, he stated that “I think my music would benefit from a wilder approach. Combined with the restraint I want to achieve, I might actually end up with the audible version of what I have in mind.” The repercussions of this method are twofold, and in most instances here, they bear intriguing results. But on a track such as “Yearned,” which builds an astounding momentum through glitches and beeps to arrive at a dizzying precipice, the effect isn’t as memorable as it could be within the context of the album, which borrows from similar patterns and techniques.

Each track generates its own organic trail of sound, which means that de Mey can conjure a sensation of closeness or intimacy, but they can also drift along on a comparable path as their neighbors without producing any desired feeling of vulnerability or uncertainty. When placed alongside such wonderfully crafted sounds and a deeply consistent aesthetic, that’s quite unique unto itself. But the listening experience from start to finish does little to instigate a response beyond intrigue as to how these sounds have been created and respect for how alluring they appear.

There are exceptions to this, of course, tracks that make their own impact, that resound in connectivity and sensation. “Moinen,” for example, has swathes of pulsating energy within its coils, with convulsions and disruptions that fully depict empowerment of the artist as a live performer in the throes of improvisation, as though guided by each preceding segment as opposed to following a singular trajectory. It’s during these moments when de Mey is able to truly shine, giving Drawing with Shadow Pens a fresh lease on life and showcasing an artist brimming with promise.

Links: Yves de Mey - Spectrum Spools

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