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Playing the Quiet at Full Volume

Two tracks from Kent Sparling's forthcoming album, Mount Larsen

Kent Sparling has long been a master of quiet music. He often explores field recordings as source material, and ekes out small sounds from synthesizers and acoustic instruments alike. That work has reached a new phase with his forthcoming full-length release, two preview tracks of which are currently streaming on his Bandcamp page. The album, Mount Larsen, is due out on December 18. It is both Sparling’s quietest and, in many ways, his loudest album yet.

Sparling’s music has always explored spaciousness, the way sounds suggest scope, scale, and dimensionality, and that work has benefited from his extensive experience in sound for motion pictures (his IMDB page lists 175 sound-department credits to date). On the new album, the only sounds are those that surface as feedback in the closed acoustic system of a Skywalker Sound scoring stage. The results, as heard on the tracks “Gorda Plate” and “Tephra,” are haunting drones and ringing tones, ghostly whistles and soft hums, all left to coagulate and circulate — and to build, as well, occasionally dialed back when they seem likely to pierce the listener’s comfort. That is when Sparling’s music enters a new realm for him — music that has so long explored the fog now plays with fire.

He describes the album’s composition in a note accompanying its release:

Mount Larsen is a record of feedback music, recorded live on a large film scoring stage. Electronic and acoustic sounds were used to “excite” the room, whose natural reverb decay is over 4 seconds; these sounds were picked up by an array of 10 microphones which were fed to a small mixing console and then back out to large speakers the room, the sounds from which were in turn picked up by the original microphones, creating an acoustic feedback loop of rich and evolving tones. The performance of the pieces involved the composer mixing the sounds back into the room live, bringing the system to the edge of collapse, then carving away energy to create hollows of near-silence. The object was music with a wide dynamic range between billowing waves of heavy sound and very, very quiet lingering filaments of clear feedback. The result is both loud and quiet, energetic and relaxing, complicated and simple and pure.

Available for pre-order at More from Sparling, who lives in Berkeley, California, at

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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