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Friday, February 14, 2020

Earth Tongues - Atem (Neither Nor, 2019) ****½

By Stef

"Atem" means as much as "breath" in German. Oxygen. It is our life force. The essence of it. "Earth Tongues" is the trio of Joe Moffett on trumpet and objects, Dan Peck on tuba, cassette player and objects, and Carlo Costa on percussion. This is the third album by the trio and possibly their best.

It is not long, a little over thirty three minutes, and that's OK.

The three musicians produce sounds that have never before been produced by their instruments. They reduce, make abstractions, and strip music to its bare essence. They create micro-sounds, layer upon layer, slowly, carefully, almost quietly, with precision and caution. When timbral purity is achieved, when this deepest abstraction of sound is created, all the micro-sounds coalesce into something meaningful. Like a multitude of sonic molecules in some primordial soup that bounce back and forth, sometimes leading to nothing, sometimes forming living cells. What you hear is beyond words and description, beyond categories and categorisations. It is sound stripped of all cultural and musical expectations, reaching a level of sonic essence that lies at the core of life. It lives.

The result is an almost organic sonic experience. It is the bubbling organic mass that once produced life, the scraping of tectonic plates, the rumbling sounds that create geisers deep under the earth's crust, the sound of wind against rocks, the sound of leaves of grass rubbing against each other, of small creatures in the undergrowth, of deep moaning sounds of other animals, the chirping of ciccadas. No matter. It lives. Complexity emerges from simple things, and it gets a life of its own, something deeply organic. Something out of thin air. The trio create life out of sound.

They manage the listening experience by introducing minor repetitions, things to hold on to, like little sonic strings of DNA, even if the rest of the sounds are unclear and hard to discern and hard to predict. You - as the listener - experience surprise after surprise in this unfamiliar environment. But even if things are strange and unpredictable, they have deep roots in life itself, deeper than music, deeper than feelings, deeper than reason, deeper than evolution, deeper than any form of organisation. It exists. It breathes. It interacts. It creates.

You can listen to it dozens of times and identify with pleasure little things you had not noticed before, or you can anticipate with pleasure the strange sounds that you know will come soon.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.