Kali Malone - Living Torch Music Album Reviews

Kali Malone - Living Torch Music Album Reviews
The Stockholm-based composer is best known for her pipe-organ compositions, but here, she uses trombone, bass clarinet, and ARP 2500 to explore the strange radiance of just intonation.

The pipe-organ purr that seems to open Living Torch, the absorbing new album by 28-year-old long-tone apostle Kali Malone, is a feint—a sly way of acknowledging her past, only to sidestep it. In the decade since Malone left the United States for Stockholm, she has amassed a staggeringly diverse résumé: bewitching shoegaze with rock trio Swap Babies, stately guitar hazes alongside friends Ellen Arkbro and Caterina Barbieri, and buzzing percussion-ensemble hypnosis on 2017’s Velocity of Sleep. Still, the magisterial pipe organ has been her most recognizable calling card, her trusted tool for exploring the strange radiance of just intonation.

When the first few notes of Living Torch rise, as if wafting beneath a cathedral’s towering spires, Malone seems to be picking up the meditative thread of her breakthrough pipe-organ epic, 2019’s The Sacrificial Code. But after a dozen seconds, the signal doubles, spreading like a drop of ink in water, until it recedes and returns, suddenly augmented by the muted refulgence of a sighing trombone. There is actually no pipe organ on Living Torch, which becomes clear enough during the subsequent 33 minutes of glowing, hissing, and crackling electronics and stunted brass fanfares.

The deceptive start is a reminder of Malone’s pivotal role in a vibrant if small scene that’s freeing the mighty pipe organ from its religious vows. But as Malone sculpts the sound of an electroacoustic ensemble into a piece that feels like a singular hymn to life and its end, the bulk of the sublime Living Torch is a testament to her music’s expressiveness and accessibility, no matter the instruments at hand. With happiness and sadness coiled in the same nebulous zone, this is the most charged and engrossing piece of her career.

Malone composed and recorded Living Torch during a two-year span at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA GRM), Paris’ foundational hub for the development of electronic music over the past seven decades. It was conceived for GRM’s iconic Acousmonium, an “orchestra” of dozens of articulated loudspeakers meant to surround listeners in meticulous sound, and premiered there in October 2021. The production process was byzantine, but the piece’s success rests on its complicated foundation. Malone wrote Living Torch in 11-odd limit just intonation, meaning every pitch is a ratio with a number that’s a multiple of 11. To get those sounds right, trombonist Mats Äleklint and bass clarinetist Isak Hedtjärn recorded their parts one note at a time, meticulously tuning each one to a computer-generated sawtooth sound wave.

Malone then stitched those bits into an extended tape piece threaded together by a variety of deeply textured drones. She indulged in the whisper and roar of the legendary ARP 2500 modular synthesizer—and not just any ARP 2500, but the unit belonging to Éliane Radigue, the nonagenarian composer who recently made her own titanic organ debut. She added the glittery hum of the Boîte à Bourdons, a newfangled French counterpart to the hurdy-gurdy and the Indian Shruti box. And, finally, Malone used a panoply of other approaches to synthesis, including one that invokes the gloom of a slowly plucked blues guitar, to shape the unexpected strata that give Living Torch such depth.

As inscrutable as Malone’s approach may seem, the results sound effortless, taking an uncommon route into familiar terrain: In Living Torch’s two movements, I hear a score for trying to hold yourself together in spite of life’s daily hardships and an ultimate awareness of your own mortality. The first side of Living Torch works like a quest for steady breath, to find and hold the center when it would be simpler to spin out. All those sounds—moaning horns, murmuring Boîte à Bourdons, hovering electronics—move independently, so that one element seems to be inhaling just as another is exhaling. Both total comfort and complete anxiety seem just one step away. The specific intervals linger between Western expectations of a major and minor chord; listening is like tottering on a scale counterbalanced by despair and delight.

That scale tilts unequivocally toward darkness during Living Torch’s second half, a 15-minute descent into the abyss. Malone uses the synthesized sound of a single guitar string to provide a rhythm, but its hangdog tone—imagine an unamplified bass, plucked with endless resignation—conjures a countdown to death. The surrounding harmonies suddenly become brittle, once-smooth tones covered in a thousand creases; the electronic hum that once purred now howls, as if screaming down any notion of survival. The sense of breathing, so central to the piece, slows until it vanishes. The final moments are like watching time-lapse footage of some beautiful flower, all soft greens and pinks and grays, lose its petals and wither into nothing.

Living Torch is the first release on either Recollection GRM or Portraits GRM since the death of the twin labels’ founder, Peter Rehberg, the musician and auteur whose Editions Mego imprint helped shape the course of modern electronic music. In 2012, Rehberg launched Recollection to dig through GRM’s archives and excavate its overlooked gems. Nearly a decade later, he started Portraits to give new generations of acolytes—Jim O’Rourke, Florian Hecker, and Okkyung Lee among them—access to the studio’s enormous resources. After Rehberg died from a heart attack at home in Berlin in July 2021, his crucial work seemed at risk. But the great French label Shelter Press agreed to give both series a new home closer to GRM’s Parisian headquarters, some 200 miles west in Rennes. Living Torch is a fitting and crucial next step, as Malone fulfills and expands the promise of her self-made early works.

Malone was only three months away from premiering Living Torch when Rehberg died, but it is hard not to hear it as an apt but unintentional eulogy. Even at its most dramatic and discordant, the music flickers doggedly with life, resisting the temptation to give in to dread. Malone has talked about how the quantitative restraints of just intonation can curb sentimental interpretations; in fact, she likes the buffer they provide. Living Torch, though, feels like a soft-hearted but honest testament to carrying on despite knowing how this all inevitably ends—one last roar, then a final slide into silence.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Kali Malone - Living Torch Music Album Reviews Kali Malone - Living Torch Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 Rating: 5

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