The acoustic guitar is so prominent, so closely mic’d, so emotionally present, that the sounds circumnavigating Nathan McLaughlin’s playing may only become fully apparent to the listener when the guitar pulls back. They’ve been there all along, small atmospheric bits, like echoes, like shadows, like lens flares. But perhaps they’re something more, like glitches in the fabric of reality, because when the guitar does go away, the backdrop becomes the foreground, and the sheer beauty of what’s been running below the radar becomes fully evident, a rich, subtle, plaintive airing of tonal spaciousness. It’s a revelation.
Such is the first track on Saturn, McLaughlin’s remarkable new two-part EP of music played based on “planetary scales” (he cites Joscelyn Godwin’s Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde in the liner note; the planetary scales are from work by Rudolf Steiner). Like the live performance of his I mentioned at the start of the U.S. response to the pandemic (“Minimalism and Its Echoes”), the music here sounds improvisatory, largely due to how it drifts from song form into something rangier and more free-flowing. But there’s no doubt, upon repeat listens, that this is deeply considered work, music in which the arrangement (notably the muted appearance, on the EP’s second track, of violin performed by Oliver McLaughlin) is paramount. Everything is in a keen balance with everything else. To listen to Saturn is to witness balance in action.