Oak or Rock
p art is sometimes a frustrating thing to appreciate. Innately you understand the process that has gone into the making of the piece and you can admire the outcome of that process, but in the end, probably more than any other major art movement of the last fifty years, you feel like it’s merely a nice optical illusion and nothing more. The same thing is true in music, when listening to music created by a specific process. You can admire the work that went into making the process and even sometimes the final product, but rarely do you engage with the work much further than that. This is the problem that plagued Arne Norheim’s Dodeka. While the process and the sounds were beautiful on the record, there was little connecting them or creating any tension between them.
This is also the problem with Phonophani’s second record for Rune Grammofon, Oak or Rock. Luckily, Espen Sommer Eide has created a process, software designed by himself that manipulates his sampled sounds, that allows for the best of both worlds: otherworldly sounds and a human hand to guide their placement. This is essential on tracks like “Earth Diver” where the maelstrom of noise, melody and implied rhythm are fleshed out expertly by Eide, creating a situation where all of these elements play off one another instead of operating independently. A strong opening track, it also benefits from the degree of chance that Eide leaves in. For, as much as the song belies its ultra-composedness in its mid-track breakdown, it’s also obvious that Eide believes in the idea of chance because of the sounds that he chooses to place right up against the hyper-melodic sine melodies.
But for all the talk of process, Phonophani’s compositions hardly sound the same throughout. While Eide has a penchant for certain types of sounds: distorted sine waves, ghostly strings and the radically altered human voice; he combines these relatively small amount of sound sources into something far larger and imaginative. “The Boiling Fjords Orchestra”, for instance, resurrects a decaying orchestra out of what sounds like a desperate landscape, revealing their sound over the course of its four minutes, while “Cloudberry” utilizes the least distorted voice of the album (identifiably Maja Ratjke) to stunning effect amid hills and valleys of processed notes.
But it’s perhaps on the closing title track that Eide makes his greatest statement, working with the same sine waves, squeaks and synthesized horns that he has throughout, but unfurling them in a masterful crescendo that ends the album appropriately.
When working so intensely with process, it’s very often hard to see the forest for the trees. Eide luckily sees a forest of a truly Technicolor nature that should excite listeners of Rune Grammofon’s most forward thinking releases.