Jeffrey Ericson Allen Review – The Geometry Of Shadows by Broken Harbour

7th February 2013

Canadian composer Blake Gibson, aka Broken Harbour, has quite obviously been in an intensive musical growth phase over these past couple of years. He explores still new stylistic material in this latest release, an extension of the ideas developed in his Gramophone Transmissions. As in this earlier album, the compositions pulse and oscillate with a mysterious sense of message; I am reminded of the science fiction movie Contact. Gibson seems to be “tuning into” some kind of transmission, and its origin is distant, or perhaps as close as inner space. In his liner notes, he explains how the material emerged from a stem recording (entitled Ansible, like the final track), underwent extensive metamorphosis, and emerged transformed, burning away all traces of the original. I think that is such an interesting and original way to work, and it’s really paid off in this worthy recording. “Ansible,” by the way, is a term coined by Ursula LeGuin, to refer to a device capable of instantaneous communication over vast distances. It’s a key concept for this album, and most probably a core motif for the work of Broken Harbour.

The component pieces of The Geometry of Shadows are vast soundscapes, carefully crafted to present themselves as whole entites from the beginning– and as evolving journeys that carry the listener from one state to another. They each have a way of coming gradually into focus, revolving and revealing themselves, and then retracting from view. I use visual metaphors because the music lends itself so easily to abstract visualization. They are very much, as the composer says, reflections on the “interplay of light and darkness.” I always check how I feel after an intensive headphone listening session of ambient music–in the this recording, I feel refreshed and quiet, like the music has cleansed me and returned me to the world more myself; I really can’t ask for much more out of music.

There is plenty of variation in the textures of each of the five generous soundscapes, but there are also some recurrent motifs that bring unity to the work as a whole, including a metallic, shimmery wave that returns periodically–almost like a cosmic Morse code–and sounds that very slowly approach, promising epiphany. Some pieces are more subdued and coaxing to the ear (such as Superluminal and Ansible), while the whole frequency range is opened up in other places, ravishing the ear with a wall of sound, such as in Between the Darkness and the Light. Overall, they make an effective set, and offer the listener a wonderful immersive experience.

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