Taylor Deupree: Sti.ll (unplugged)

Wednesday 22 May 2024

The second release under Greyfade’s new Folio book/music imprint continues in the same vein as last month’s treatment of Kenneth Kirschner’s July 8, 2017. Joseph Branciforte has made an acoustic transcription of another electronic work, this time an arrangement of Taylor Deupree’s 2003 album Sti.ll. I have not heard the original, but the four pieces here display incredible craft and ingenuity in embodying the uncanny sheen of electronic sounds while also adding the depth and microcosmic details that distinguish acoustic music. Taking Branciforte’s transmutation as the stand-alone work without wider reference, it’s a fascinating set of four compositions that both mesmerise and stimulate, working with intriguing sounds outside the usual expectations of chamber music.

Branciforte and Deupree themselves play percussion, with cellist Christopher Gross returning from the Kirschner album. For the opening piece, Snow/Sand, Madison Greenstone overdubs clarinets (B-flat, bass and contrabass) on top of cello, vibraphone, bells, snare drums and paper. The compositions dwell on small gestures, finding a particular sonority and feeling their way deeper inside, drifting as needed but moving as little as possible besides where the initial sound leads them. The smooth, rich sound of the combined clarinets are filled out with background tones from the tuned percussion and cello, with small flickering disturbances and articulations provided by faint snaps and clicks, plosive reed notes and struck cello strings mimicking the crackles and glitches used to embellish the surface of modern electronica. Recur changes to a busier texture, more overt in its evocation of skipping, glitching samples, filled with small percussion sounds over stuttering phrases on Gross’s cello, Laura Cocks playing flute and Sam Minaie double bass, with Ben Monder’s acoustic guitar adding an equal mix of pitched sounds and chattering strings. Amazingly, the last two pieces use even simpler instrumentation. Temper features Greenstone alone, overdubbing clarinets into overlapping irregular loops that never quite resolve, upset by recurring guttural tutting and underlined by faint, gritty static from a shaker. There are multiple tensions to propel this music beyond simple ambience: between the smooth sounds and the ruffled surface, the placid stasis and the restless reiterations and, in this version, between organically acoustic sounds and those which duplicate electronic circuitry, such as the steady ECG bleeps heard faintly in the background. In the final piece, Stil., Branciforte performs trills and rolls on vibraphone and bass drum to produce deep but transparent layers of sound that seem greater than the sum of their parts. As I can’t make comparisons I’ll spare you a disquisition on the implications of originals and simulacra, just to reiterate that it lulls and disturbs at once. The accompanying book promises to give analysis of the composition process and re-composition for acoustic purposes, much in the manner of the previous Kirschner book. The details should be interesting, given that this appears to be a more complex job of arrangement, blending acoustic instruments to mirror electronics sounds apart from the typical MIDI samples from the previous release. It’s evidently the outcome of years of collaboration.