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Reyes/Stokowy Duo Northern: Ashroud Is My Country
The music of Jordan Reyes, the founder and owner of American Dreams Records, hones wide-ranging explorations to a fine sonic point, featuring synthesizers, trombone, lap steel, vocals layered as if a choir. Robert Stokowy, a German sound artist whose work exercises great restraint, treats sound as a raw material to shape into aural sculptures. Stokowy released Strife of Permanence, which filters his meticulous process through the aesthetics of black metal, on American Dreams last year; he mainly presents his work via site-specific, longform installations. When Reyes plays bass in concert, he braces himself with the instrument’s feedback; playing synthesizer, his body locks into an unspoken groove. On the surface these approaches couldn’t seem more different. A focused collaboration between the pair would seem a challenge, if not impossible. Northern: Ashroud Is My Country synthesizes their approaches into a unique whole, combining Reyes’ propulsive investigations with Stokowy’s patient architecture, and creating an immersive space for listeners to explore.
The pair worked together and apart. “Musically,” Stokowy says, “we had to find a common language.” One generative entry point was a poem by the Russian lyric poet Sergey Yesenin, which inspired the album’s subtitle. Reyes recalls an early moment in the pair’s collaboration: “One of the first things Robert did was ask: ‘I want to see how quiet you can make this. How quiet can it go and I can still hear something?’” Where Reyes provided formalized musical instruments, Stokowy’s setup was makeshift, diffuse: “I had a just-broken guitar, and a bunch of speakers, and some tools that I’d put together.”
These tools were both tangible and sonic. After the pair prepared preliminary recordings, Stokowy assembled drone layers from past field recordings and sound installations, compacting them into one track—a track which, on record, often sounds like a synthesizer. In addition to synthesizers, the pair added piano, vocals, guitar, bass, lap steel, transduced cymbals and gayageum, realizing finished works through the tension of collaboration. “A lot of the sounds, they sound like they were created in a certain way, but they were created in a different way,” says Stokowy. “‘That might be a guitar, but how—what? Why?’” Reyes adds: “Well, it’s fun.”
Fittingly, Northern works less like a listening experience than a world to investigate. Reyes imagines a character “walking through a ghost town, seeing the remnants of something that was there before.” One could imagine this character using fragments of sound as building blocks, like a video game, to construct their environment in real time. It’s not dissimilar to Stokowy’s production process. “My approach,” he says, “is to always create a sound texture—it’s always about texture—before recording, or in the moment of recording. I often find that, when you use materials or elements in a direct, physical way, you can come up with your own aesthetic that is defined by the weight, by the shape, by the sounding qualities of an object. That’s why I walked around, looked for stuff I could find on abandoned construction sites or something like that, trying to activate things—whatever is lying around, whatever is functional at that moment.”
An unresolved, searching beauty pervades these explorations. Feedback quivers over ambient textures, patient piano overtones decay in succession, acoustic and synthesized notes intertwine with one another. Though the music’s subtle dedication to its shape pulses throughout, it’s also slippery, open-ended, and invites active listening. Says Reyes, “when it seems like nothing’s happening, that’s when you need to pay more attention.” Stokowy elaborates: “When there is a standing tone, it gives the listener the chance to change perspective—where you have to, by listening, walk into it.” Northern may recall landscape music, but exists in a shroud of its making, a world all its own.
released May 6, 2022
Mastered by Andrew Weathers
Art by Robert Stokowy