When Sounds Are Images

Northern Gulfs (Glacial Movements) by Yair Elazar Glotman

The album Northern Gulfs by Yair Elazar Glotman comes and goes in rich swells. The music — entirely free of vocals, and essentially of melodies for that matter — is built less from notes than from images. These are sounds, of course, but each sound is so specific, so distinct from each other, that they individually have the quality of images. They’re memorable less for their sonic content than for their narrative content, the place they hold in memory, the stories they propose. On the track “High Tide,” for example, the constituent sounds include the sawing of wood, the creaking of a rope and a slat pier, some high-pitched ring tones, insectoid percussion that could be a cigarette lighter failing to make good on its sole responsibility, and an underlying bass tone with a somber cast. There are six Northern Gulfs tracks in all, each with its own collection of images. Some are more tonal, others more entranced with sourced field recordings, like the scatter of pebbles and echoed bell on “Low Tide” or the ratcheted gears in “Home Port.” Each of these elements, whether tonal or sourced, is entirely self-defined. Each may individually have been processed — stretched, given texture, looped mechanically, hushed — but they never seem to merge in any given track. They are like semi-opaque cards in a deck being constantly shuffled. “Khaypudyr Bay,” named for a spot in the brittle cold of northwest Russia, features a delicate counterpoint of clipped signals, buried deep in a warm, gray hum. Much of the record retains that muted malevolence, but it reaches an extreme on “Kara Sea,” named for the Siberian waters, which feels truly tortured, its elements including backward masked bits that suggest regret, as well as harsh winds and a haunting organ.

The album is streaming in full at glacialmovements.bandcamp.com. It was released in April 2014 by glacialmovements.com. Yair Elazar Glotman is based in Berlin, Germany.

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