So a CD review then. A way out by knowing smile is the charming title given to a new duo release credited to The Imaginary Soundscapes, who are Frederic Nogray, a new name to me, and Stephane Rives, the soprano saxophonist. For this disc however, Rives works with “samples from his discography mixed with recordings from his daily life and sound environment” while Nogray utilises feedback created with three effects pedals. There are two tracks, one titled Low and the other High, and both consist of droning structures of extended sounds, mostly electronic in feel. The liner notes call the music “a trip in two parts”, and this, coupled with Nogray’s description of his sound as somewhere between minimalism and psychedelia and the duo’s group moniker do tend to lend a bit of a new age feel to proceedings, but mostly the music has enough menace and edge to it to keep away from the blander end of music attached to such a set of reference points.
As the titles suggest, the first track here features mostly low pitches and frequencies, the second, higher. From the outset we are presented with a thick, heavily oscillating feedback tone that seems to circle the room when played aloud. This sort of sound appears frequently throughout both tracks, the first full of such trembling heavy overtones, the second piece filled more with thin whistles and piercing shrieks. The pace is always quite slow, and things gradually unfold, though while many sounds do remain for long enough to let the listener slip into a meditative state alongside these drones, they always change and develop over time. The opening heavy oscillations are joined by deep buzzing scars and fluttering clicks soon after, and throughout the pattern is for sounds to settle and become familiar just long enough before they are subsumed by something else.
A way out by knowing smileÂ is one that will test the ability of your speakers nicely. At any kind of volume Low really makes bass cones rattle, and High is full of fine, whispery thin frequencies that only a good set up will likely do justice. In many ways the music heard here is thoroughly generic- we have heard many albums of electronically produced drones overlapping and pulsing across one another before, and indeed there isn’t really much new here, but there is certainly a subtlety and sense of restrained beauty here that lifts the music up above anything from the New Age section in HMV. There is a nice use of peel ‘n reveal in various places throughout the album, an intense oscillation may fade to leave a thin hum behind, and sounds often rise up from behind others, with the overall sense of the music being one long stream of slow momentum until the details found in the sound reveal themselves.
In places here the music does drift a little, making close concentration on the sounds hard going, but it alway spills itself back enough to allow further, more interesting sounds to come into play. Fourteen minutes or so into Low, as a syrupy hum stays static at mid-volume so we hear the only really obvious signs of Rives’ saxophone, with little pinpricks of tone played through the warbling sheets of sound around them and providing the music with its most intriguing section of all. Otherwise, beyond the excellent craftsmanship, the album is a little low on surprises, and while I am not certain as to exactly how much of the music was performed live,Â A way out by knowing smileÂ does feel very composed, a combination of musicians pushing at each other, but with some sense of where things could go understood by both parties. Drones aren’t always my thing- so they have to be exceptional to maintain my attention, and while certainly I did drift quite often on subsequent listens to this album its not a bad example of how this area of music, if done with subtlety and care can deserve your focus and concentration. One for the more discerning fan of distinctly minimalist drones then, but there is still enough here to keep me happy. On Ruptured recordings.