(New Album Review) Autistici & Justin Varis- Nine

Here’s one from way back in January that I was particularly excited to see in my inbox: Nine, a new collaboration between the ever-perplexing Autistici (UK-based sound artist David Newman, curator of Audiobulb) and experimental pianist Justin Varis, off Eilean Records, one of my faves.

If one were only aware of Autistici’s wildly imaginative work as a sound designer and not of any of Varis’s releases, one might assume that this might be the sort of collaboration where one person’s job is to be the straight musician, while the other’s is to process and embellish. However, taking into account the highly unusual experimental character of Varis’s EP for Audiobulb, Mountains, it’s clear that this was not the cause. That was more of a microsound album riddled with odd manipulations and ethereal effects than straight neoclassical, and so it isn’t surprising that Nine is two sonic explorers investigating abstract, deeply textural territory. That trek takes down in a bathysphere into the ringing sanctuary of “Blue (Heart of a Diver)” and into the arid spaces of “Orange Red Grey” without missing a beat, in keeping with the slightly rambunctious sensibilities of these two with regard to composition. However, on the epic “Amber (Sleep Test for Eric)” time slows down as layers of minute details accumulate to form the emotive theme.

The release comes with eight remixes that are really more like radical reworkings from some of the brightest in the international microsound community: Pillowdiver, Isnaj Dui, Christopher Hipgrave, Marcus Fischer, Monty Adkins, Offthesky, Letters! On Sounds, and Wil Bolton. Out of all these, Dui’s contribution stands out most, perhaps because her approach so strongly contrasts with Autistici’s.

It’s hard to pin down what keeps me coming back to this collection. It’s impassive but emotive, manic and then meditative– Varis certainly confronted Newman with something more emotionally cohesive than what one would expect from Autistici, and the result is pretty wonderful. If you’re at all interested in modern takes on sound design, this should be among your essential listening for the year.

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