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walking from savoonga to gambell
  • While Steve Roden’s work can be enjoyed plenty without knowing much of the context or processes within, it can enhance his richness as an aural artist to dig deeper under the surface. His latest for Richard Chartier’s reliably solid Line imprint marks his first since 2010’s Proximities, and it is the first for the label to feature his new practice of modular synth tinkering. Those who are used to the peppy, step-sequenced arpeggios and patterns of M. Geddes Gengras or the undulations of Anthony Child’s recent two albums may be surprised to hear Roden working in a very different style here, but those familiar with his work as a sound artist previously will not. Tinkering and experimenting in the most genuine sense of the word has always seemed to be the driving force for Roden, whether in the sound or visual realm. It’s interesting to hear Roden’s self-anointed “lowercase” aesthetic and process translated to the modular synth, wherein perhaps similar techniques yield quite different results. Just as drawing with crayons is very different from painting with oils, his trial and error experiments that resulted in most of the album’s contents are built on subtlety and nuance but stand in contrast to some of his previous material. Their subtly rhythmic patterns of pitches that wander in and out of and amongst themselves create a sort of perpetual motion of pitchiness.

    “this is for anyone who wants to dance” indeed is likely the closest Roden has flirted with overt rhythm in such an obviously electronic way, but its persistent tenor hum quickly fades from a backbeat to a ruminant drone, looping little reverberated doodles overhead. Those cycling phrases and patterns recall techniques present even in his earliest material as in be tween noise (Roden’s early work, incidentally, is now available on his Bandcamp page, well deserving of renewed attention), and even if the toolkit has changed, the meditative and inward quality of his output remains in tact. Even the modular chirps and looping tones of “helicopter song” feel akin to the handmade objects and toys that comprised his old toolkit, feeling at home in his repertoire but still feeling somehow renewed or with a shift. My favorite of the five pieces is probably the last and longest one, “the whole room throbs.” Underpinned by what could pass as line noise, its electronic gurgles and tiny patterns bristle for a good thirteen minutes. By virtue of repetition and its muted palette, it manages to be both tense and meditative at once, until it abruptly stops and ends. That Roden is willing to embrace different tools and techniques once again supports his continued exploration of challenging the new and unfamiliar, something I find consistent in both Roden and Line’s greater bodies of work.