Digital Variations on Harp, Guitar, Flute

If the 17-minute A-side of Colin Andrew Sheffield and James Eck Rippie‘s Variations (Elevator Bath, 2003) seems to shimmer, credit that scintillation at least in part to the source material: this lengthy ambient piece is apparently built from the sounds of a harp, once the mood-setting instrument of courts and kings. Likewise, the vinyl LP’s cut B1 is built upon a guitar, and B2 upon a flute. The album is a half-hour-plus trio of aural-for-aurality’s-sake ruminations on singular instruments. Sheffield and Rippie dig deep into their raw goods, so even when the instruments are less than recognizable post-production, their core sound — their aural aura — remains present in some form. The tone, if not the technique, sings through: the guitar splayed into slowly ringing sine waves, the harp a crystalline surface extending into the distance.

All of the work on Variations was reportedly recorded live with Sheffield on sampler and Rippie on turntables and guitar. Of the three tracks, the least static of the variations is the one that closes the album, the one based on a flute. There’s much more than a flute in that cut — a wash resembles nearby surf, and there’s a downright eerie granularity at times — but it’s the occasional bit of tentative embouchure that grounds the atmospheric goings-on. The flute track, although eight minutes in length, is listed on the sleeve as an “excerpt,” and one can only imagine where it might have gone had it extended into double digits. The guitar piece, at close to ten minutes, ends quite suddenly, just a whisp and then dead air; perhaps the finality is on purpose, but more than likely it’s single bum moment in an otherwise epiphanic live improvisation. It’s also worth mentioning that the Elevator Bath label, which never skimps in its productions, released the album on heavyweight, 180-gram vinyl.

This album review appeared, in slightly different form, in the autumn 2003 issue of e|i magazine.

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