Review: Matthew Collings – Splintered Instruments

According to Collings, Splintered Instruments is a “revolt against machines” – not only those used to make music (although the vast predominance of organic and acoustic sounds indicates this to be a factor), but also for the way that machines “exist”; the predestination of their narrative and the unambiguity and simplicity of their purpose. It’s an album that thrives in nature’s billions of micro-collisions of chance – the complex interaction of everything to a backdrop of living time and space, culminating in an environment that couldn’t possibly repeat on itself.

And so melodically, the album unravels and never looks back – each track is an eco-system in which each sound is a component of intimate interconnection and rippling consequence, with every small change (perhaps harmonically or dynamically) knocking into the surrounding elements and culminating in a much larger transformation. The vocals – which, for other artists at least, often offer the refuge of assertion in music of constant shift – sound as transient as the surrounding instruments, clinging desperately to each split-second as it happens, riding the waves of an eternally uncertain tide. Understandably, he sounds tentative – not whispering exactly, but exerting each word softly into the air, as though ready to retract each vocalization in the event that the current course of tonality is ruptured without warning.

Collings refers to a “reckoning with the destructive forces in my life” in his description of Splintered Instruments, the most explicit manifestation of which arrives in the first two tracks. Opener “Vasilia” is a turbulent mass of percussion (shakers, tambourines, large tom drums) that tugs the thick web of melody in every direction like an old wooden ship wrapped up in a relentless ocean storm. Meanwhile, “They Meet On The Subway” feels crisp and somewhat Scandinavian in its landscape – feet trudging through sodden fields, crystalised dew (gently tinkling chimes) melting away in the brisk winter-spring transition.

Gaps start to open up from here. Collings’ violent tendencies feel less cathartically applied, turning into ominous suggestion rather than all-out destruction – dark clouds of dissonance in the background, the collapse of individual instruments into ash. “Pneumonia Loves The Moon” bathes a forest in silver moonlight, with clarinets and double bass chatting in amongst penetrative beams of strings and the cautionary caw of crows. Collings’ preference for the organic in all its unpredictability is often most visible during these patches of quiet, with each instrument flecked with the scars of imperfection that the mechanical can never convincingly reproduce.