Throughout the movie Jacob’s Ladder—directed by Adrian Lyne, about a Vietnam veteran struggling to make sense of flashbacks and hallucinations that haunt him after the war—characters writhe with such force and speed as to seem unreal. Lyne would shoot footage at a low frame rate, speeding actors’ motions to such a point that they seemed impossible. His film is comfortable representing time through nonlinear means; often it would show a long period of time passing in an instant, or intersperse flashbacks and hallucinations within shots of the tangible world. Ross Gentry’s new album Apparitional produces similar effects with sound. Using what have now become near-trademarks of Gentry’s—a host of instruments and recording technologies, electronic and acoustic, layered atop music captured during past sessions—Apparitional illustrates the ghostly qualities that suggest its title: time’s passing seems both continuous and fractured, and sonic images weave into and prise one another, creating a world of striking vividness.
Gentry conceptualized the album during a time in which he struggled to sleep, using the space between sleep and wakefulness as creative inspiration. “I had a brief moment where I felt like my dream life was intersecting with my waking life,” he says. “They were snapshots of images that kept coming back. I leaned into being exhausted and sleep-deprived and started recording. The framework of this album is rooted in the mystery of these ghostly images. This album is meant to exist in that in-between space. Between being awake and being asleep. Between light and dark.”
The results mirror Gentry’s process making music under his name and as Villages, whose releases date back to 2006. Gentry was born in the Western Coal Fields of Kentucky, and his work bears an obsessive, meticulous interest in the possibilities of self-recorded sound, which he’s examined since childhood. Gentry houses electronic and acoustic instruments, digital and analog recording technologies, under the same roof, unearthing and repurposing old recordings, integrating them into new work with such precision that their sources are near-indistinguishable.
In many ways the album’s realization illustrates its goal. Emmalee Hunnicutt (cello) and Megan Drollinger (violin) play string arrangements—recorded by Gentry and Patrick Kukucka a few years ago, and redeveloped here by Gentry—that converse with, and often complicate, their eerie synthetic counterparts. On “An Apparition,” the pair’s chords merge into clusters of dissonance; on “Perception of the External World,” strings shimmer in the fifth and sixth octaves above low synthesized drones; on “Dis/appear,” they echo, pushing against the album’s lone major key.
Apparitional’s scope evokes the work of Chicago cellist Helen Money or German multimedia artist Thomas Köner. Independent textures are variously redolent of Factory and Type Records artists: the drumming of the Durutti Column’s Bruce Mitchell or the patient layers of Richard Skelton. Like Bows, the music’s pace turns from quick to languid on a dime. Often Gentry’s sounds recall the natural world. “Nose to the Void” recalls rainforests, “Adornments” office minutiae and frogs, “Placid, Still” floral drops of water in a cave punctuated by crumpled guitar. Textures mix low, droning hums with piercing strings, distorted voices and countless colors from Gentry’s auditory palette. Apparitional’s dedication to recreating the quiet, hyperreal horrors that animate it is nearly palpable. Where it stands out is that it evokes all of them at once.
released February 4, 2022
Recorded and performed by Ross Gentry, January - April 2021
Strings performed by:
Emmalee Hunnicutt -- cello
Megan Drollinger -- violins
Strings recorded by Ross Gentry and Patrick Kukucka
Mastered by Andrew Weathers
Artwork by Thom Nguyen