this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
of | the buried stream
For the better part of the past decade, Loren Chasse has been refining his compelling sonic approach, which generally involves "activating" the latent sound-making qualities of natural / commonplace objects, such as pine cones, leaves, stones, or paper. This approach will seem immediately familiar to fans of John Cage, although Chasse's work has always felt more humanist to me than Cage'sdriven less by theory and more by a romanticism that isn't afraid to get muddy or wet.
You could also align Chasse with R. Murray Schafer, father of acoustic ecology and author of the soundscape manifesto The Tuning of the World. Chasse often attempts to capture the acoustic properties of unusual environments, and his recordings of drainage pipes, old buildings, forests, and barns might fit nicely next to Schaefer's recordings of Vancouver soundscapes and European fishing villages.
If, following Chasse's lead, you start looking at every space as having a latent sonic quality, waiting to be awakened by sounding an instrument or object, and if you start looking at every instrument or object as in and of itself having a latent sonic quality, it begins to seem as though the entire world is pregnant with sound, and charged with (for lack of a better word) spirit. This animist world-view undoubtedly inflects Chasse's work with bands like Thuja, the Blithe Sons, and Coelacanth, but it finds its most unadulterted expression in his solo project, Of.
The Buried Stream is the second Of full-length release, following 2004's The Infant Paths, and, like its predecessor, it is an album that feels profoundly spiritual at every turn. Whether Chasse is engaged in uncharacteristically muscular drum-work (as in "The Jut of Rock") or eliciting numinous drones from organ and flute ("Mud Vowels"), or accompanying a recording of waterfowl with a quiet rattling bell ("Glowing Prints"), each track feels like the work of a man trying to bear witness to a vision of personal holiness.
The difficult thing with spiritual music, of course, is to avoid degenerating into New Age blandishments, to remember that true spirituality isn't necessarily comfortable, that there are moments of bliss but also moments of terror. So too it is on Buried Stream: although there are tracks here that coax you open gently and delicately (such as the minimal album-closer "The Guidepost", performed on what sounds like a balalaika), there are also tracks that crack open your head and overwhelm you with sheer force, most notably on "Underground Cloud," which features a startlingly close-mic'd recording of what sounds like a squealing metal gate cutting through thick layers of flaying violin.
The complaint I hear most commonly about the Jewelled Antler folks is that they're over-prolific, and while it's true that they release material at a nearly incomprehenisble rate (my casual count reveals three Jewelled-Antler-associated releases so far in 2005, which as of this writing is only 28 paltry days), it's also true that almost nothing on this release feels like filler. If Chasse and his cohorts can continue to produce material of such high quality at such a rapid pace, far be it from me to gripe. I'm content merely to luxuriate in the results.