008 Greg Davis 'Midpoint'

Cat.No: home n008
Release date: October 30th, 2009
Edition number: 500

Buy Now @ Home Normal (Japan)

Release description:
My first foray into Greg Davis’s work was through his excellent debut on Carpark ‘Arbour’ in the summer of 2002 I believe. As I sat with my friend who was playing it on his big stereo I was really just taken aback by how detailed, melodic and organic the work was. I became an instant fan, yet despite this was still taken aback further when I first met Greg and saw him playing live at the Bellingham Electronic Arts Festival on the first of December 2006. The show took a while to sink in as I had never really heard anything quite like it before. I guess in many ways it was an entry for me into ‘drone’ work although this term (as always) is rather disingenuous as there is so much more to Greg’s work than the dictionary definition of ‘drone’. I think it was the sheer size of the sound in the smallish area he played in. Either way, it was both enormous sounding and micro-detailed all in one.

So nearly 6 years after that show I asked Greg if he fancied releasing this as a CD as a kind of comparison to his newer live work. We ended up agreeing on his performance at Higher Ground in May of this year as it seemed like a nice comparison, yet what we got was essentially two live shows which come together seamlessly to create ‘Midpoint’. Its a whole other side to Greg’s work that many have yet to experience and perhaps in a small way we can show just how amazing Greg’s body of work is. From violin to bells, synthesizer to stomp boxes, analog to digital, it just highlights his natural ability to create improvised and amazing sound-scapes. At once minimal, slowly-evolving and rich, you’ll also find yourself entranced by rhythms and bleeps you never thought could exist within ‘drone’ works, if thats how we really must define this. This experimentation and indeed, playful side to his work, is classic Greg Davis. Its what first drew me to his work and which brings a smile to my face as I listen and try to write these pithy words.

Ian Hawgood

Cover art for ‘Midpoint’ is by the very talented Liam Frankland. For more information and photography go here: www.liamfrankland.com

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PRESS

Norman Records
Home Normal are churning them out at the moment. It feel like they have something out every week! I could be wrong, perhaps my perception of time has been altered. I blame Greg Davis and his ‘Midpoint’ CD. This guy’s stuff has a strange effect on me. The disc comprises two tracks. The first is a mixdown from a live quadraphonic performance where he played violin, bells, vocals and computer. I’d say it’s one for the drone purists, working its way slowly and gently evolving. On the very surface it feels a little cold and sterile to begin with as the piece develops it becomes warm and hypnotic. I think fans of Celer would appreciate this one. The second track is also from a live performance with a different array of tools at hand: Korg mono/poly analogue synthesizer, Wurlitzer MLM organ, effects pedals etc. This one has a totally different feel with lots of detailed sounds deep in the mix. Of course there is a drone element but there is lots happening and the overall atmosphere is really cool and transports me to an other place entirely.

Boomkat
Mutually Arising comes a full five years on from Greg Davis’ Kranky debut, Somnia. At the time his classic, semi-academic approach to drone music was a relatively scarce commodity, and alongside friend and collaborator Keith Fullerton Whitman he helped shift ‘popular’ electronic music in a more serious direction. In 2009, drone music seems to have been fully democratised and everyone’s at it. As a label, Kranky itself continues to be a great platform for this music, releasing one of the year’s best drone records so far in Gregg Kowalsky’s Tape Chants. The two twenty-odd minute tracks that stretch out across Mutually Arising are typically steady-handed examples of the form: ‘Cosmic Mudra’ surfs across immersive analog synth tones, evolving and opening up with a gentle spread of harmonic shifts and increasingly technicolour overtones. ‘Hall Of Pure Bliss’ seems to shift in a different direction, beginning with a bright swirl of sustaining tonalities that accumulate bass weight through the opening minutes, only to close down into a more muted, warm stretch of synth drone for the final moments. True to the form of Somnia, Mutually Arising is an arrestingly subtle and incremental album, certain to be embraced by followers of the La Monte Young or Charlemagne Palestine schools of drone. Highly recommended.

Smallfish
It’s very nice to hear some new material from Greg Davis. I don’t know whether I’ve just missed any releases but it seems to be ages since I heard anything by him. A natural combination of artist and label, this 2 track work (clocking in at an hour in length) is a substantial and beautifully crafted work in every sense. The first piece is an absolutely wonderful slice of drone-based, ever expanding music that begins with a calming tone that slowly develops over the course of the track. Growing from a muted sine wave style tone into a full-blooded bowed string style ambient texture it has that transcendental feel that certain artists seem to have knack for (and I would suggest that this track bears a similar style and sound to the awesome Mountain Ocean Sun album, also on Home Normal). For the entire duration it flows over you before reaching a super-nice crescendo of layers towards the end. Really quite a magical piece. The second track has a slightly more offbeat approach arrangement-wise which you’ll really notice when you sit down with the album for the first time. Initially it shares similar motifs with the first track but then turns into a more naturalistic and pastoral style of ambience. A gorgeous guitar works its way into the mix with field recordings adding another layer of intrigue and then, suddenly, you’re treated to a simply fabulous Indian style rhythmic section. It fits quite brilliantly with the layered and almost spiritual feel of the drone elements and creates a hypnotic and, it must be said, surprisingly groovy atmosphere. But it doesn’t end there as this passage slowly morphs into an analogue arpeggio that filters and changes, adding in extra melodies in a classic polysynth style. This part finishes the album off with a real flourish and adds a very different element to the overall package. Quality work all round – thoughtful, mellow, charming and produced to perfection. A real winner and no mistake.

Foxy Digitalis
I’m not sure when it happened, but Greg Davis reputation has recently developed a certain mystique around his work that outstrips what is often seen (mistakenly) as his unassuming, almost-too-academic approach to drone music. It is certainly obvious how it happened, though. That he is now frequently seen as something of an elder-statesman of serious laptop-based electronic drone music is simply a natural consequence of an all too rare ability to seamlessly combine a cold, ‘serious’ and austere electronic sound with an unbounded pastoral warmth, and moreover to do so consistently.

Thankfully, his new CD on Home Normal, “Midpoint”, is no exception. This two track release features live recordings from two separate performances, the first from 2006 in Bellingham, Washington, and the second from 2009 in Burlington, Vermont. The first track showcases the more controlled side of his work, featuring slowly unfolding layers of analog tones that eventually completely envelop the listener. The second, more recent track is frankly more interesting, with a much less obvious structure resulting in a thoroughly engaging diverse and exploratory feel. It sets itself apart from the first track by beginning not with the familiar drone trope of monolithic sine waves, but instead with an ominous blend of low, rumbling drones, squeaking synth and percussive higher tones. The result is far more open and atmospheric than the first track’s intricately wrought construction, and is all the better for it, allowing the track to move off into other directions entirely until it fades away in a whirl of tribal drumming and arpeggios. If this final track is anything to go by, Greg Davis is more than just reliably good, he’s getting better with age. 9/10

Jambands
Midpoint, the first in what will hopefully be a Dick’s Picks-style live series from the prolific Vermont drone-master/guitarist Greg Davis, is a small masterpiece. Comprised of two full sets—a 23-minute piece recorded in December 2006 in Bellingham, Washington and a 35-minuter recorded in May 2009 in Burlington—Davis charts a celestial course. On the former, Davis unfolds a long, low tone born of violin, viola, and vocals, adding harmonies and voices until it opens into an expressive rainbow of sound, eventually dissolving into trickling water, chimes, and silence. On the Burlington set, he builds atop field recordings, drawing fluttering tones from the buzzing of insects, and somehow expands the scene into patient, glowing washes, like a sonic approximation of the filmmaker’s magic hour, just before sunset. (Followed, naturally, by the transitive nightfall of silver moon-apples.) One of the best of the new-breed electro-acousticians, Davis’s improvisations are guided by an impeccable narrative sense that makes them both accessible and satisfying. Required listening.

Blow Up (Nicola Catalano)
Il talento improvvisativo di Greg Davis alla prova dei fatti in questi due lunghi set registrati dal vivo, il primo nel 2006 in occasione di un’installazione quadrifonica per il festival elettroacustico di Bellingham, il secondo nel maggio dell’anno appena passato per una performance all’Higher Ground di Burlington. Abbandonata la fida sei corde l’autore chicagoano si districa tra organi e varia elettronica, violini e campane, spina dorsale di garbugli drone-ambient che sbocciano selvaticamente ipnotici come rose in un groviglio di rovi. (7)

Soundscaping
In this album we find a live recording with a personal history of Ian Hawgood’s meeting with the music of Greg Davis, spread across two tracks of live performances set distant from each other in time to provide a comparative retrospective in Davis’ output. We begin in Washington back in January 2006 and end in Vermont at the end of 2009, and over the course of these three years we find a midpoint somewhere along the course of these recordings and live displays of curving, swaying, droning tones. Greg Davis, a classically trained composer, has an extensive background behind him and a career and discography in music that covers a multitude of genres, that one will have a hard time pegging him a particular coat on him. The first track, a live recording of a 2006 show at Bellingham electronic arts festival in Washington, is an early entry in the chapter of droning music works, and as you sit through this some 23 minutes long recording you immediately recognise Davis’ affinity and acute ear for detail. Wonderfully melodic and organically-sounding with a haunting, stretched voice overlayed and positively expanding atmosphere.

In Burlington, Vermont, we have turned the clock forward to December 2009 and get to witness Greg Davis three years down the line. The level of and close attention to details is staggering at times, but the over-all environment for this live recording is one of other-worldly and hauntingly distressing nature – one which does not invite the listener in with warm and lush soundscapes, but rather displays . A combination of acoustic instruments to synths and electronic processing is at display in both shows, but with Davis’ newer shows there is an elegant subtlety and darker, minimalistic character, albeit with the same slowly-evolving droning and recurring vocal elements that are present in the former recording too. To listeners who have not had the experience of hearing Greg Davis live this is highly enjoyable and whets your appetite for more, both Greg Davis and Home Normal releases, as we bring this feature to an end.