(Mystery Sea 2013)

Review by Caity Kerr

‘The desert as sea is the main idea of this piece.
I recorded water in transitional state,
to make music about water without a sound of it.
Just its trace in the air, like the ones in the sand.
There is metal expanding due to its own heat.
And this impossible attempt of a contact with liquid.
Explosive, sudden evaporations, as storms.
One microphone was malfunctioning too,
as if it refused to serve a lost cause.
The sea is almost gone, but remains a sea nevertheless’.
– D’Incise  (April 2013)

In case you’re not sure d’incise is the artist and (aral) is the work, yet another fine and beautifully packaged release from Daniel Crokaert’s Mystery Sea. Here we have a single piece of music which makes as much as it can out of a limited set of sounds.

The sounds themselves are well chosen or, rather, well constructed, most likely made from various studio and field recordings. Amongst others there’s a hissy layer, a high frequency layer, a somewhat distant low frequency layer, a bell-like layer and a rather attractive percussive layer. These layers ebb and flow, overlapping each other – the routine is disturbed only occasionally by a hint of something more immediate.

It might be helpful here to forget the context of the music’s creation and to set aside any concepts behind its creation in order to focus on what we’re actually listening to. It might seem a little unfair to pick on this particular work in order to do this, but I’ve always found d’incise’s work to be of more than passing interest and so it deserves as full a consideration as possible within the terms of a simple review.

We’re listening to layers of sound which, because of their distinctiveness, don’t merge much, beyond the occasional crossfade, and which don’t create any depth in terms of morphogenetic generation within and across the full range of the spectrum. These are not tonal layers so there’s no conventional harmony at work and there’s no beating from difference or combination tone resonance, save perhaps a hint or two in the lower registers. We have one thing set on top of, or placed beside another thing. In this and in one or two other aspects the music is similar to Renaissance polyphonic choral music, differing fundamentally only in the heterogeneity of the sound sources, a fact which prevents any coalescing of the ‘voices’. This arguably places choral music in the position of offering more scope for timbral development. So formally or interms of deeper construction, there’s nothing radically experimental in this aspect of the work. The degree to which timbral development or morphogenesis affords scope for works of greater richness is of course beyond the aims of this review but the possibility is worth bearing in mind as a helpful skein of thread to guide us through the labyrinth of contemporary composition based on recorded sound.

(aral) is therefore an exercise in careful and at times very adept single sound creation as well as a project of basic polyphony. Subjectively I’d say that it would stand above many efforts in this style of composition. Given that any deeper timbral investigation has obviously no part to play in d’incise’s project, this might allow the work to qualify as ambient, in other words not requiring too much of the listener’s attention in order to appreciate the subtleties. The serious attention to detail in the single sound construction redeems the work from any criticism of overall evasiveness or shallowness. Perhaps the trick in this piece is that the artist allows the work to hover between an ambient listening strategy and a closer exploration, though here we are back in the territory of cultural context and speculation, which risks becoming so open-ended as to confuse matters beyond all usefulness.


[D’Incise; photo courtesy of Ponto Alternativo]

D’Incise website
Mystery Sea website