Review: Kemper Norton – To Mahina

Kemper Norton - To MahinaI see gigantic translucent ships that take to water as if weightless, carried on a sea that rises gently within the massage of intersecting currents. The drones feel ethereal and fading; perhaps they were violins once, although they’ve been unravelled into ribbons of air liberated from explicit instrument affiliation. “Jumna. Dacca. India. Duke Of Sutherland. Taroba.” The vessels fade into the reverb decay as a voice solemnly announces their names in turn, and with the exception of the creak of bough planks in the closing stages, the piece feels like a dream of the past curdling above my head, beautiful and quietly mortal.

The release is a re-interpretation of sounds made by The Doomed Birds Of Providence, and while Kemper Norton resituate the elements so as to eradicate the Birds’ distinctive trudge and bleak vocal command, snatches of the original music protrude like debris dancing on the water’s surface. Where The Doomed Birds Of Providence tell the story of Mahina through earth and sonorous object, Kemper Norton pour in the abstraction of thought process and implacable sensation; the inarticulable gut feeling, the lethargy of dawn dissolving into summer sunlight, memory fading like a speck of a vessel upon the tightrope of the horizon line. The lullaby vocal line of “Working” floats like a hot air balloon across the night sky, swerving between drones that sound both triumphantly horn-like and jarringly sinister. So many of Kemper Norton’s sounds hover ambiguously between atmospheric states like this, beckoning to be rotated before the eye of interpretation, haunting me with loose wisps of the unanswered, guiding me down wells of potential misunderstanding.