Cody Yantis + Nathan McLaughlin + Josh Mason + Joe Houpert – Line Drawings

Line DrawingsIt’s a theme that hits home. To use words is to draw lines, to categorise; asserting divisions between what is and what isn’t­ – like a concentrated slither of torchlight, illuminating one side and, by extension, declaring the rest as obsolete. Yet movement can be instilled within words through contradiction and ambiguity, kicking the roots of the “is” out of the earth with the boot of the “isn’t” – the vibration of oppositional meanings tugging a single object in several directions at once. Similarly, the intention within Alice Sketches, Line Drawings and Studies is spun and unhinged through re-evaluation and the confession of initial error; the project is an eternal questioning, with each scrap of documentation ending on the equivalent to a sonic ellipsis; a line hanging loose, waiting to be resumed or moved.

The original intention was for these four musicians to challenge eachother to make “deliberate music”. Indeed, I hear them reacting to the red glare of the recording light. Mason’s guitar strings sigh like the restless utterances of sleep, while Houpert’s discordant violins sound like skin peeling away; two lines of harmony quivering and intersecting. Yet the recordings are rough – impulse scratched furiously into coarse paper – and come wrapped in the crackle and plosives of incident, of the unknowing and aimless: blustering microphone interference, instruments falling through holes in the magnetic tape. Some tracks settle into organic conclusion, while others disappear as if through powercut. The intangible boundaries of “deliberate music” become clearer as they are shifted and overstepped.

I like to think that Alice Sketches is a chronological account: the sway of Yantis’ guitar/dead radio wind chime detached by Houpert’s tectonic tug, which in turn sends a commotion of unease through McLaughlin’s tropical pond of metal impact and reverse notes. Line Drawings LP is then the supposed “clear and confident musical statements” that emerge from the scrawl of Alice Sketches. There is indeed a greater sense of space on Line Drawings, as though emptiness now occupies the places where the wrong turns would normally be. I’m back to walking the slither of torchlight like a tightrope: Mason dreams into a bad amplifier connection and breath-born exhales, Houpert gurgles dead air and becomes caught between the clang of underwater plumbing and strings spun into spirals, Yantis splays broken wires and keys over an abandoned room, McLaughlin sways and glitches upon one banjo string at a time. They still come to me like tentative images seen from bleary eyes. Perhaps the “confidence” of Line Drawings comes in the assertion of the declaration: “I don’t know”?

The dialogue fans out again on Studies, as the musicians demonstrate how the conversation convolutes further under the entry of new voices. It’s an infinite process, as the framework of understanding founded by the four central characters unravels in the epiphany of new perspective. Mary Lattimore’s harp paints petals that wilt into delay as soon as they are dropped, while Brad Rose plummets like a diving bell to eavesdrop on a meeting of undiscovered aquatic species on the ocean floor, groaning and chirping through deliberations on a secretive agenda. The line is a scribble again, smudged by failed eraser marks and zagged by false turn.