Ian William Craig: ‘A Turn of Breath’
As I struggled to find words suited to describe “A Turn of Breath,” the latest album by Canadian composer/performer Ian William Craig and the first to be released by the burgeoning California label Recital Program, the one that came to mind repeatedly was palimpsest — strictly speaking, a manuscript in which rubbed-out portions remain vaguely legible; more generally, something that has been altered or reused, but still betrays evidence of its origin.
It’s not a precise fit, but it seems to suit Craig, who uses open-reel tape decks (and maybe other arcane devices) to layer strands of reedy, churchly tenor and falsetto voice, occasional instruments like acoustic guitar and harmonium, and found-sound ambiences. Bending his circuitry, Craig renders the music muzzy and indistinct; his sound can call to mind a worn-out tape from your childhood, a shortwave transmission from overseas, or a 78 rpm shellac from which distant voices emerge amid the crackles, awash in ethereal luminosity.
Craig’s pieces, most of which range from three to six minutes in length, can sound like high lonesome folk songs (“Red Gate with Starling”) or bedroom-recordist soliloquies (“Rooms”). The most ambitious compositions, like “Second Lens” and “The Edges,” evoke troubadour ballads preserved on metal platters, launched into deep space, and then carried back on unstable waves.
Purple, I know. But little else conjures the modest sublimity of Craig’s achievement. Recital Program pressed only 500 LPs, including 125 colored-vinyl copies with a 22-minute bonus CD-R. Tarry and you’ll miss out on one of the year’s most magical recordings.
STEVE SMITHSteve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight