Justin Walter plays the EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) ‘wind-synth’ that is mainly seen in the hands of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen these days. But Unseen Forces doesn’t hide the instrument in a large ensemble: it puts the EVI out there solo, in a set of semi-improvised and sometimes re-sequenced performances. A pretty unique record, out on Kranky.
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He plays the wind synth. What in the hell is a wind synth, you ask? Well, as far as I know, it’s an instrument beloved by Sun Ra’s masterful friend Marshal Allen. Its name suggests something once futurist now coated with dust, a sci-fi antique of the music world. Since its original use in the ‘70s, it's had little visibility, but we have a chance to talk about it again in the context of soloist Justin Walter, who has created a gorgeous record with little more than the synth and his powerful breath control.
It is amazing that these sounds come from wind -- they are fully electronic sounding drones that sound as if someone’s pressed something down once and left it to shimmer. With nothing by the way of score or pre-existing composition, the record sounds like a glossy improvisation on synth, as you might expect from recent Kranky entries; at times it is gorgeously neo-classical, as on the piano-struck title track. Tracks like “End of Six” sound like chords being plugged into sockets, making their impact with a sudden activation of energy. The sound is beautiful and bright, and often favours melodicism over the stoic minimalism you might expect -- “It’s Not What You Think” sounds like a dreamed up hymn, Walter carrying a melancholy line as intuitive as a personal lament, as anything you might hum in a moment of catharsis.
I know I'm doing this wrong -- I should be stressing that this record is virtuoso stuff, a deeply impressive craft being pulled off in ways unfathomable. But mostly, I love that it actually compels the listener, whether through emotional engagement or truly pulsating music -- “End of Six” develops into the same kosmische adventure thriller that Steve Hauschildt perfected on ‘Where All Is Fled’, suggesting beatwork through a distorted-sounding rhythm. That all these things are happening through this instrument astounds me -- that he's created a world to get tucked into is the record's real delight.
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