The uniquely soft sound of a solo flute, traced and refracted by its warbling, water-logged echo, opens the gates to floatings, the captivating new album by Mathias Lystbæk, aka This Floating World, released on England’s Whitelabrecs.
A “concept album,” without any of the cringe-inducing bombast that one might associate with the term, floatings simply and elegantly examines a single instrument, the flute, and various ways in which its sound can be manipulated through effects pedals. While that might seem a bit aloof or analytical on paper, the music Lystbæk has created is rich with mood, color, and mystery.
A number of the tracks are improvised, which contributes to the ethereal, dreamy atmosphere. “Flicker,” breathing in long harmonized notes, glows with wintry warmth before evaporating in a windy spiral. “Winds I” is a simple, descending three-note figure that cycles in a mournful, questioning gesture while “Winds II” has a yearning reach, with Lystbæk pushing his notes upward before letting them fall into a stirring pool of distorted reverb that becomes ascendant before all fades to black. Except for a brief span of breathy texture, “Drops” is one of the least flute-like tracks, sounding more like swelling keyboard pads peppered with random clusters of percussion, as if Lystbæk had recorded his drumming fingers on the keys of his flute while not playing it. “Dust” is another outlier, opening with what sounds like the distant whine of a dopplering train whistle brushed over with silty wind gusts while a bright, high-pitched flute carves a shining figure in the air above. The longest of these particular tracks doesn’t even reach three minutes, and it’s a testament to Lystbæk’s vision for everything on floatings that when working with such breathtaking reticence, he still manages to conjure fully realized worlds. Floatings is a beguiling collection of songs, tableaux snatched from a dream journal.
And if that intrigues, check out Her Watery Eyes and Ghost of Trakl, both released on Lystbæk’s label A Quiet Room Recording, and featuring him as a member of the EQS Ensemble.
As with Floatings, the material on Her Watery Eyes, from 2020 is minimally composed and relies heavily on improvisation while maintaining an intimate and subdued aesthetic. In this case, however, the music is built from acoustic guitar, flute, cello, and keys.
Silence and space are integral. The first two sections of Her Watery Eyes are of a piece, with minor key cello, guitar, and keys played sparingly – including an audible sigh or the occasional draw along the coils of a cello string to suggest a creaking floorboard – all of it working together to evoke the feeling of an abandoned house, one in which something awful has happened and which still carries the sense of it in its atmosphere. The ensemble stretches out and wanders this dread-filled zone, exploring and expanding it into music. The second section introduces flute and voice to lend the proceedings a touch of immediacy while adding a richer, more melancholic air.
After all the foreboding, the final section arrives as a bit of a surprise. Gauzy washes of keys predominate, punctuated here and there by odd strums on the guitar or a random stroke on the cello, but as the piece progresses, the heaviness of the established mood begins to abate. The feeling of dread recedes, replaced by an uneasy, tentative calm.
Ghost of Trakl from 2021, inspired by the troubled life and poetry of Georg Trakl, is fittingly anguished and despondent, but no less beautiful or engaging for it.
Delivered in three brief sections and sonically linked by the faint sounds of a trickling stream between each part, Ghost of Trakl has a uniformly sonorous, sighing quality that sounds at times like lamenting earthbound spirits and at times like super-slow versions of songs from The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds/Faith era. (In case you’re wondering, this is meant as a compliment.) Where Her Watery Eyes generally favors acoustic instrumentation, Ghost of Trakl relies a bit more on electric instruments. The guitar has more glint and bite, for instance, while the keys are made to wobble and growl when they aren’t providing bass accompaniment. Tactility is replaced with a kind of goth-like weight. It’s somber sounding, as a tribute to Trakl should be, but the gorgeous melodies keep it all from sinking into a morass. If there’s a quibble, it’s that it’s over too soon.
One thought on “Mood, Color, and Mystery – This Floating World and the EQS Ensemble”
Haven’t had time to listen to this yet, but I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you. ( Meredith was home, and she kinda took priority over everything else… )
Any news about the novel? I think about it, and you, often; my wishes for your success remain strong!