Review: Erik Levander – Couesnon

Levander catches the balance just right. Computer processing isn’t used to transform the sound of vintage clarinet, but to explore it. Processing is a scalpel. A magnifying glass. A thermal camera. It isolates the warmth of breath gushing down the cylinder, or seeps in between the fibres of the reed, or runs itself across the chips in the paintwork. Even as distorted tones are sent sweeping across the stereo frame like a fire, the clarinet is still present, dispersed through the overdrive and phaser like an aroma, placed in duet with its overdubbed self. The melodies, too, channel the hidden history that rests silently within old instruments; the graceful insinuations of previous owners, past concerts, accidental mistreatment.

Couesnon never allows its wonderful protagonist to be engulfed by the cinema of sound. Even if there’s just a slither of clarinet timbre bobbing through oceanic surge of tracks like “Åter annalkande”, it allows me to keep hold of the thread that leads back to the album’s simple origins: lips pursed round a mouthpiece, fingertips awakened by the chill of those metal buttons, deep breaths pushed upward from the pit of the stomach. Through blustering distortion and dissipative echoes, the record harnesses the breadth of weather systems; heavy rainfall across an entire hillside, fog obfuscating a whole village, blizzards battering stretches of dreary shoreline. Yet like the pathetic fallacies of theatre, this weather is a dramatic conduit for those moments of private vulnerability – a storm whose choreography mimics the flicker of a solitary candlelight.