JAMES BERNARD & ANTHÉNE
(Past Inside the Present, 2023)
That liminal moment, when the phosphorescence behind the window shade first disrupts your eyelids, is a difficult one to pinpoint. Sometimes the earliest thought in your mind is a long-tail partial memory of those last few moments of a thousand-yard dream, sometimes it’s an irrepressible descending sigh as you anticipate what’s to follow, whether with apprehension or ardor. Centuries have passed in your unconscious absence; every frequency is existing somewhere.
California’s James Bernard, an established PITP veteran, has been creating and releasing music for nearly 30 years across many genres and label affiliations, in addition to his expert engineering, patch-building and mastering work. Both as a solo artist and collaborator he has also brought an inimitable degree of invention and skill, heaviness and delicacy to works for A Strangely Isolated Place, Rising High and others.
For Soft Octaves, he created a suite of compositions using electric six-string bass, which yields a massive range spanning from subterranean rumble to cirrus vapor. Each recorded in a single take through an array of effects and augmented by volume pedal to soften the edges, these pieces occupy a symphonic space of tonal androgyny, at times resembling a cello, a woodwind or something altogether unplaceable, but always arranged with deft and intuitive pacing.
anthéne (aka Brad Deschamps of Toronto) complements Bernard’s environments with harmonized pulses, lyrical slow-motion melodies and evocative pedal steel guitar that pitches and yaws above the firmament. As the founder of Polar Seas Recordings, Deschamps has created and facilitated a considerable catalog of patient music in keeping with the imprint’s name, incorporating plectrums, analog synthesizer and field recording as the bases of his output. The impressions of northern climes that he creates make for an unlikely but perfect fit amid the hazy, coastal spaces of the source material here.
Soft Octaves’ title track is an exemplary iteration of each artist’s strengths, as the curtain slowly parts to reveal a daylit panorama accented by an organic rustle, echoing guitar swells and subtle digital grain. Standout “Trembling House” builds on this tenor, incorporating the voice of marine eyes (aka Cynthia Bernard, James’s partner in PITP duo awakened souls) layered in ghost tones around itself, a lullabied comfort even as it drifts away into the ionosphere. Other key tracks like “Renascence” and “Cortège” introduce elements that imbue their aquatic dirge with church-like reverence.
Citing “times of uncertainty and hope” as the primary genesis for much of this work, Bernard proves himself once more a master of transfiguration, weaving meditative and compelling beauty from the strands of doubt and fear that many of us have faced in this young century. His wise choice to trust his works in the capable hands of Deschamps has yielded a complex and dynamic set that perfectly captures the essence of the magic hour, where all is suspended in shifting pastels.
✦ Written by Thomas Meluch, [Benoît Pioulard]
awakened souls, Labradford, Chuck Johnson, North Atlantic Drift, Windy & Carl, Lichens, Eno
Selected PITP Works
Departing In Descent [2LP/DL] PITP-V033
Long Formations +4 [CS/DL] PITP-C011
Fragments + Distancing [CS/CD/DL] PITP21