Calling UK-based Fluid Audio a boutique label may be apropos, but it still somehow seems too quaint a description for the level of creativity, sophistication, and craftsmanship that goes into each bespoke edition that comes out of their shop. The music each artist creates is only the beginning as the sense of immersion is enhanced significantly with artful packaging and curated ephemera that deepens the experience – postcards, photos, letters, scents, and other historical artifacts. Every release is truly unique and conveys an aura of authenticity and human connection that is very antithesis of commoditization. Featured here is a quartet of recent entries in their catalog by Emmanuel Witzhum, Tobias Hellkvist, Christopher Whitley, and Kirill Mazhai.
Note: As many readers may already be aware, if you have an interest in obtaining a Fluid Audio release, it is imperative to sign up for their mailing list as they typically sell out early in the pre-order phase. Also note that shortly after physical editions do sell out, digital versions usually become available on the label’s Facture Bandcamp page.
Emmanuel Witzthum – The Book of Dusts
“‘When warmth seems so far away, but there’s still something beautiful to behold. Something priceless, even. Witzthum is able to capture something of winter, some important essence and emotion – loneliness or the ache of nostalgia or of a beloved time forever erased, like snow falling on top of snow – and it oozes out of the music, creating something of lasting importance…”
After last year’s poetically poignant Songs of Love and Loss (Eilean Rec.), Israeli violist, composer, & multidisciplinary artist Emmanuel Witzthum debuts on Fluid Audio with another exploration of elegaic beauty on The Book of Dusts. The album comprises a suite of starkly resonant pieces and interludes that ache with a palpable mournfulness. After leaving the listener in near ruins with the closing “Book of loss”, a kind and comforting respite is offered in the form of two efflorescent long form pieces by e+i, Witzthum’s ambient project along with Craig Tattersall aka The Humble Bee. Really, The Book of Dusts is two albums in one, and, combined with the poetry prints, antique glass slide, vintage photo, and hand-stitched pouch it makes for one of the label’s most noteworthy releases.
Tobias Hellkvist – Annoying Tyrannies
“The latest installment in our ongoing Notebook Series, is a long, slow-to-build exploration of deep space. Hellkvist works slowly, so the music is always natural and open to the possibilities of change, angling off course, like a satellite pulled into the magnetism of a planet’s orbit. Several twists and turns are always on the horizon, even in the immensity of deep space, where signals are no more; the only sound is a light snake-hiss of static…”
Swedish composer, sound designer, foley- and sound artist Tobias Hellkvist has been active in genres such as punk, folk, indie rock and electronica since the early 2000’s, but here he is fine form in the mode for which he best known recently and that is creating immersive drone and electroacoustic ambient soundscapes. Packaged with notebooks representing the sun and planets of our solar system and inserts from rare antique astronomy books, Annoying Tyrannies is a billowing oscillation through the cosmos in two parts, an ethereal journey of radiant tranquility and wonder.
Christopher Whitley – Solos
“The music stretches out and becomes elongated, and Whitley produces a sound infinitely wider than its origins. Whitley investigates concepts of movement, decay, and delves into past decades. The bittersweet loops act as a compass, despite revolving around and around in lost, swirling circles, its points settling on the south as the music steps backwards and then flicking towards the north in its anticipation of the future…”
On Solos, Canadian violinist Christopher Whitley takes what is traditionally thought of as a solitary instrument and turns into a veritable builder of worlds. To be sure, there are moments on the album when the violin’s empyrean voice rises in its purest natural form, but these are juxtaposed with cavernous soundscapes hewn from sedimentary layers of reverb and dense accretions of distortion. At times, the deep, rumbling temblors seem as if they will shake the melodic structures apart, but they hold together throughout this remarkable and captivating album. The intrepid nature of the music is matched by an edition packaged with a 16 panel (circa: 1890 -1950) Bartholomew cloth bound map and vintage glass slides and photo negatives.
Kirill Mazhai – Hearts Must Change
“Nostalgia is powerful, and Kirill Mazhai’s ambient music longs to return, acting as a kind vehicle into a period long since buried. A sense of place, home, and belonging infiltrate the ambient air, but gentle overdriven fuzz frays the music. The listener gazes into the depths of another lifetime whose past is retained and caged in a square image, one kept forever young even as its people age and pass on…”
I was rather taken last year by You Don’t Belong (Shimmering Moods) by Belarusian sound artist Kirill Mazhai, a collection of warm, reverberant drones traversing the latitudes and longitudes of his own personal memories. All Hearts Must Change is cut from a similar cloth, but the context is broadened to family and pastel hues have faded to a dark sepia tint. Commensurate with the theme, the source material for this edition is a family history caught on film dating from 1875 through to 1965 including old Langley and Kodachrome film negatives, Kodachrome red border film slides, and family photographs which are placed in rare vintage photo packs. Interestingly, it seems that what Mazhai unlocks from these photos are not so much the stories they might tell, but the emotional context. Title such as “All Wounds Explained” or “Beach Party, Later” hint at a narrative, but it is the intensity of feeling that resonates in these vividly melancholic and deeply affecting drones.