Looking for something to clear your head in these days of media glut and radical uncertainty? Check out Slow Machines from Michael Grigoni and sound and installation artist Stephen Vitiello on the 12k label.
The gist of Slow Machines seems to be one of drifting. Of letting go of any kind of rigidity or formal structure to float away to a looser, unfettered dimension. Grigoni’s languid yet precise playing on his dobro, pedal, and lap steel guitars works to conjure images of an eternal Southwestern landscape while Vitiello’s electronics, field recordings and effects (as well as his application of clicks, ticks, and scratches from the Tinguely-esque kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson on the first track) keep the music grounded in the physicality of the here and now. Together the two artists strike a lively balance that suggests vast expanses of space and time without explicitly referencing the celestial.
Grigoni’s gentle picking and strumming on most tracks creates a spare pointillist specificity that hovers over Vitiello’s beds of glowing, swelling effects. “Purpling Cloud” finds them slowly building up the sense of a gathering storm, with a kind of breezy playing from Grigoni buttressed by softly distorted growls from Vitiello. The piece ends in a rainy patter of notes, bringing with it a feeling of dry heat and the peppery smell of petrichor.
The rain suggested in “Purpling Cloud” reaches land and seems to float in the distant background of “A Clearing,” but the track never lapses into an ambient cliché of dreamy stasis. This is thanks to Vitiello’s subtle intrusions and ruptures as well as Grigoni’s muted, wordless vocals, which both echo and harmonize with his playing. The closing track, “Transparent as a Hanging Glass” throbs with a more pronounced bass sound while reversed guitar notes and glinting harmonics throughout add new textures and dimensions.
Each track on Slow Machines is part of a larger mood, yet the album is never monotonous. It’s packed with intriguing details and ideas, and plays out in a fresh and surprising fashion. I find it both a much-needed antidote to our current craziness and a source of solace. And if you like it as much as I do, check out Grigoni’s earlier 12k release, Mount Carmel. It’s a beauty.
While I’m suggesting other work by these artists, check out this new release from Vitiello, And the room into my buzzing head. With just an open window and an Aeolian harp – a harp that’s played by the wind blowing across its strings – he’s captured a rich and lovely recording of both the lulling swells of the harp and the vibrant sounds of life outside his window. From a startling array of birdcalls to the muffled thrum of drowsy insects to the evocative, heralding call of a distant train. It’s a surprisingly emotive variant on John Cage’s “4’33” and a soothing sonic strategy for these self-quarantining times.