Alastair Galbraith / Jean Jacques Palix / David Watson

Pure Speculation
How do you guys feel about the single-sided 12-inch? I think I’m a little split. On the one hand, it seems like a very large waste of some prime vinyl real estate. On the other hand, the use of only one side of the record lends weight to the music that’s on it. In laymen's terms, what I’m trying to say is that it takes some serious balls to only put music on one side of a record. And with serious balls comes serious responsibility. So then, are these three here up to the task? Do these gentlemen have what it takes to justify La Station Radar emptying its penniless pockets on this release? Methinks yes.
I guess it would help me to review this release if I had any notion as to who these people are in the first place. But I don’t, unfortunately. Alastair Galbraith seems to blip a bit higher on the Google-meter, I can’t really read the biography of Palix as it is in French (although he appears to have an impressively lengthy discography spanning all the way back to 1987, as does Galbraith — further even), and the website listed on the little info-card the record comes with doesn’t pull a damn thing up for David Watson, so who knows about that guy? It is clear, however, that each musician brings with them a very specific voice to this piece which was “composed by correspondence during 2009.” Galbraith does voice, bells, guitars, casio. Palix does “Noises,” radiators(?), windmill sounds(??), electric keyboard, computer. And this David Watson fellow? He does the Higland bagpipes (and they sound great by the way).
The point of all this is that Pure Speculation is a release which has many parts, and — to beat a dead horse of a cliché — this one truly is a sum greater than those individual elements, even if the numbers don’t add up the way you think they should. Each little sound you hear as the needle traces its way to the center of the record is alien to its neighbor, even (and especially) when those parts are working together. The human voice of Galbraith, which sings monochromatically in a forlorn, almost dead sort of way, sounds somewhat foreign as it rides atop a creeky/clanky clock-work type of rhythm-cycle. It’s in time, tempo and tandem, and makes complete sense with what’s going on in this section of the music, but the construction or architecture is still unnerving and unsteadying. This is but one example of the many occurrences that make this piece of music so fascinating and engrossing. For the trio is very keen and adept at playing with the dichotomy of melody and noise, of ambience and transience, finding a middle ground between the two without compromising the aesthetic potentials of either. To wit, there are moments of hauntingly beautiful melodic refrains from what sounds like the casio, and also some grating, nerve end-torturing pricks of noise that, on their own, would be enough to get teeth to grind.
And it’s all brought together into a side-long work that is truly a whole, bookended with those droning bagpipes, and full of little chapters each with their own sets of rising/falling actions. The three manage to complete a coherent whole despite having such different approaches instrumentation-wise, and also likely living on opposite ends of planet Earth (or, perhaps, opposite ends of the solar system). So then, is all of that I just wrote about worth the vinyl release even if it’s just one side of music? You betcha.
Can't seem to find an embeddable audio sample, so listen on Soundcloud here.
May 8th, 2014