Eivind Aarset

ECM Reviews

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Eivind Aarset, without whom Nils Petter Molvær’s breakthrough Khmer might never have reached its full potential, gets an ECM space of his own at last. As much a child of the label as he is of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, the Norwegian guitarist brings attunement to every touch of the strings. Into the synchronicity of technique and vision he has sculpted since his early teens, Aarset has absorbed inspiration from a variety of musicians, including Bill Laswell, Marilyn Mazur, and, above all, Jon Hassell. That said collaborators are all masters at creating dream logics of their own is no coincidence, for he too is the student of another time-space continuum. With guitar as writing instrument and an array of electronics as his paper, he takes down field notes of a culture we’ve never known, a culture that slides down the ladders of our DNA and airbrushes mantras onto our microbes. Partner Jan Bang—who worked alongside Aarset most recently on Hassell’s Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street—adds rivers and landmarks, making the overall effect that much more immediate. Given the above history, one would expect long dronescapes, à la Re: ECM, to prevail. What we get instead is a set of eleven glimpses averaging four minutes apiece. These are no scale models, but self-aware biomes along whose ghostly borders flourish colonies of samples and contact wire.

In spite of the technological array in which it finds itself, the guitar of Dream Logic is naked as can be. The ensuing digital offshoots, as much reflections of the instrument as they are of it, are elementally no different than steam and water: only their physics has changed. Thus, the spidery crawl space of “Close (For Comfort)” feels less like an introduction and more the extension of life cycles as yet unheard. Its throats sing to us in two further variations, each slightly more corroded than the last. Contrast this with the texture of “Surrender,” which with its amniotic undercurrents gives no indication of flaw.

As the credits inform us, koto virtuoso Michiyo Yagi gave “Jukai (Sea Of Trees)” its title, an evocative one that carries the same double meaning in Japanese (樹海) as it does in English. Here, Aarset opts for the literal, painting with underwater gamelan a forest of internality. The level of development in its few short minutes is astounding, indicative of the thought put into the album as a whole. A subterranean bass tickles the soles of our feet in “Black Silence,” where slumbers a leviathan prayer. Its pizzicato veins chart every contour of our spines in “Active” and “Reactive” before spreading into the viscous pulchritude of “Homage To Greene.” Through a Taylor Deupree-like veil, Aarset weaves threads of guitar in a swaying rhythmic tide. If the foliage of “Jukai” could speak, it might sound like “The Whispering Forest,” which opens itself to concretely melodic shapes. Of the drone, we get only a teaser in “The Beauty Of Decay.” In the same way that the beginning was an end, so is this end a beginning. With a methodical sweep of the minute hand, it resets us to local time, that we might take this slow plunge into jet lag once again.