James Ginzburg - crystallise, a frozen eye

  • The Emptyset member makes poetry out of drones on this eccentric deep listening album.
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  • In the book accompanying James Ginzburg's latest solo album, crystallise, a frozen eye, space is both infinite and confined, objects liquidate and intermesh, and the world—in Ginzburg's poetic imagining of it—is brilliantly liminal. "I see no horizon. I am a skeleton, crimson blood and off-white bones. I am an architecture, four walls and four windows, glass, a liquid, warped by age," the Berlin-based producer writes. "The sky is liquid. I stood, before, on a hill above the sea, the sky frosted, warped, I saw no horizon. The sky and sea were uniform, fluid, and I was no longer architecture, no longer confined—boundaryless." Ginzburg's second LP is the successor to 2018's Six Correlations, which brought him (sonically) to the lush islands of Scotland, where half of his family is from. His experimentations with Gaelic folk music from these regions have resulted in fascinating compositions grounded in experimental music and minimalism (as with most of the material on his Subtext label). As a member of the experimental producer duo Emptyset, Ginzburg's academic projects have long concerned time and the physicality of sound. Alongside his partner Paul Purgas, his intellectual hunger has led him to unconventional recording locations like the Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire and a nuclear power station in Snowdonia, Wales. On crystallise, a frozen eye, he employs a different method, but the significance of location remains. Riffing off earlier work centering Gaelic folk music, an eclectic (and almost entirely acoustic) assemblage of instruments—which includes a psaltery, shruti box, Iranian daf drum, Appalachian dulcimer and a bespoke string instrument originally created for Emptyset's Borders album—transports listeners to the damp, verdant islands of Scotland. The record is an exercise in deep listening, home to timbres that evoke the guttural, yet transfixing sound of Pauline Oliveros's 1982 album, Accordion & Voice. In Sonic Meditations, the pioneering deep listening artist's influential text published nearly a decade before, Oliveros instructs: "Listen to a sound until you no longer recognize it." I kept this suggestion in the foreground as I worked through the surreal caverns of crystallise, a frozen eye, where the occasional misplaced thrum or subtle scraping of an instrument holds the potential to break the lull of harmonious drones. The core of the album's intrigue is Ginzburg's skillful ability to join serene tones with harsh, nearly grating textures. As listeners, we're left to make sense of what exists in the interstices, where either quality begins and ends. In "an obsidian expanse" robust string instruments clash and quiver, undergirded by the whirling, dynamic whir of the shruti box. One of the LP's more tumultuous tracks, "outside, infinite," features twinkling strings contrasted by heaving drums and menacing drones, which pick up in intensity and tempo as the song progresses. Where the album retreats, there are pretty moments that sound directly inspired by the calm of Scotland's greenery. Entirely composed of resonant bells, "in time — crossing" makes use of the instrument's placid echo to forge a pleasant hum throughout. Shimmering timbres from a psaltery ornament "the eyes, behind" and "a gate left open disappeared." In "lines tangled, space between," thin guitar strums are strengthened by plaintive piano chords. The result is a piece that is both hopeful and solemn, like a long exhale after overcoming great adversity. Daylight blue bursts through the snaking empty space among the tree branches depicted in the artwork of Ginzburg's second album. The image is perfectly shattered, riddled with concentric shards that provide a psychedelic effect to an otherwise idyllic scene. It's a sight that's easy to get lost in—abstract but familiar enough that you can perceive it from a number of angles. What a fitting metaphor for the intermingling elements that make this mammoth of a record so rich.
  • Tracklist
      01. light evaporates 02. on obsidian expanse 03. the eyes, behind — 04. lines tangled, space between 05. border, dispersing 06. a gate left open disappeared 07. in time — crossing 08. a direction, standing still 09. twilight in pierced velvet 10. outside, infinite 11. absence intact