“Unfurling Streams” reviewed by 5:4

From one black box to another: large, black and—unless you tilt it to the light—anonymous, within which is contained Unfurling Streams, a new sound/image work created by Monty Adkins and Stephen Harvey. The two collaborated on last year’s Rift Patterns, and this new work displays the same close attention to the intricate, intimate marriage of sight and sound. i’ve written about Adkins’ music on a number of occasions, but i’ve never really addressed what i think is one of the most interesting aspects about it. Since 2008, in certain movements of the thrilling [60]Project, and certainly from his album Five Panels released the following year, Adkins’ music has gone through a fascinating process of maturation, becoming slow, spacious and exceptionally beautiful. And this is very dangerous from an aesthetic perspective, as it’s an approach that invites comparisons to be drawn with contemporary ambient music, a quite different field and one that—with a few notable exceptions—has in recent years become ever more entrenched in displays of banal ‘nongenuity’. In any case, to describe Monty Adkins’ music as ‘ambient’ would be to fixate solely on its surface and ignore the legacy, context, intentions and depths of action and content that lie beneath its undeniably attractive veneer. Adkins is doing a whole lot more. In Unfurling Streams, the point of inspiration (for both images and music) is the final two lines of poem no. 10 from E. E. Cummings’ 1958 collection 95 Poems: “For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) / it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”. Far from being the cue for sounds either directly recorded from or alluding to the machinations of waves, tides and the like, Adkins instead opts for a more abstract engagement, creating a sextet of canvasses that are characterised by a sense of fluidity, or buoyancy. There’s no idle float or drift here, materials are purposefully moved so as to produce particular moments of coalescence, or to underpin a moment of structural importance, or to reinforce something hitherto only implied. Harmony is a prominent concern throughout Unfurling Streams; penetrating deep bass notes tonally recolour everything above them, and there are even instances that one might call ‘cadential’. The considerable amounts of drama that ensue (Adkins’ sense of timing is just immaculate) easily finds its equal in the remarkable collection of 12 images created by Stephen Harvey (who, it should be stressed, is also a composer). Although more aquatically referential, they, too, are sufficiently abstracted that in most cases they go way beyond mere representation; Harvey’s concern is “to investigate detail and particularity and make it the essence of the work”. The images are a triumph in which familiarity is made new, even (at first) alien: complex refractive latticework, swirling clouds of impossible perspective, pools of something molten encrusted with jewels, these are all among the delights to be found in Harvey’s gorgeous, immersive images (glimpses of some of which can be seen here and here). Released in an extremely limited edition of 24 (as well as a standard CD-only edition of 200), at time of writing just five of these box sets remain available, so in order to engage fully with Unfurling Streams, you’ll need to make haste to the Crónica Bandcamp site, where the album can also be streamed. Simon Cummings

via 5:4