We have all seen documentaries about the apparently greatest albums of our time. When a producer or technician sits at the very mixing desk and delights in stripping the recording back to an isolated track. What was actually happening in the vocal, the weird bass line or unconventional electronic effect that somehow helped tie things together in a way that’s perhaps not apparent in the finished article.
There’s also the story of Trio by King Crimson which is credited to four players. Robert Fripp, John Wetton, David Cross and Bill Bruford. However, Bruford sat at his drum kit but didn’t play anything. He’s credited as having been part of the improvisation simply by being sensitive enough in the moment to realise he was not required to do any more than listen.
Both these examples give a sense that music exists in a layered environment. Each is an individual voice but somehow it morphs and overlaps in a way that creates things that are altered from their isolated components. Stripping things away reveals elements, sometimes draped in an odd beauty, that adds more complexity than it simplifies.
This reductive approach is captivatingly sprinkled throughout Celestial Devices, this brand-new release by Unearth Noise. New Jersey based Roger Berkowitz, who records under the name, has quietly been making music for several years. Prayer and Resonance in 2014, and the collaboration with Dreamspeak (And The Light Beams Will Guide The Way) in 2018 are both vast, sprawling and at times satisfying unwieldy. His music always feels like a journey through a mysterious but defined narrative.
As accomplished as these recordings are, something hits immediately with Celestial Devices. There is sense in almost all of these 12 new tracks that gives a sense everything extraneous has been faded out, sanded down and rubbed away to nothing. I’m not suggesting Berkowitz binned the string quartet or drummer but what we have here is almost 82 minutes of music that’s formed a residue. Every embellishment has been exorcised but what we have is not some dry sobering husk, but a potent lysergic paste.
Cloud Gatherers is a Floydian drift that’s been tumbled in a stone polisher for decades. Little more than threads of a homemade harp and guitar blankets. The Vow is guitar blurring sitar caught in oily dawn patterns before Bowing before my God solidifies similar elements over thicker forms.
The Guardian rains down in percussion before a distant brushed drum describe a jazzy funky imbued ambience seeping from its core. By the time Shadows meditates on piano keys, it’s clear that this new space in Unearth Noise has literally made the music more beautiful than ever by presenting sounds as finely chopped slithers of pure beauty. Five and a half minutes of almost nothing, and it’s spectacular.
The Visitor feels like it could have resulted from the pestle and mortar grinding down Sandy Bull’s No Deposit No Return Blues and Jim O’Rourke’s Kid Loco remix. We drift through a throbbing mess of shimmering spiralling weirdness. The almost 20 minutes of Oceans within and Of divine origin delight in chiming guitar over rising organ smudges before given way to huge arcing submarine transmissions. Realm of Cloud toys with a gentle backwards snaking reverberations.
In a theme that seems to echo with his other releases, Celestial Devices seems to create a slow intensification. As the album seeps forward, the paired back elements grow incrementally and almost microscopically more insistent. Conception of light is a mechanised droning kaleidoscopic looping like an alarm clock that’s finally reached us from the centre of some distant galaxy. This strategy reaches a clarity of sorts in the buckled almost recognisable clipped electric jazz forms of Transparencies. Brassy squidges, wandering bass lines and infinite cymbal smashes, congregate into this messy aural broth. The journey ends with the vocal blossom of Transmigration. A gently wavering air pocket that bends across some turbulence before slowly elongating towards a point of origin.
By the time Celestial Devices falls silence, it’s clear this album is something quite special. 12 tracks that feel more like a translation of a sacred text, or sonic manifestation of metaphysical objects. Each of these tracks, considered as devices as the title suggests, feels more like a representations of far bigger kosmic ecosystems.
Presented as a single experience, it’s one of the oddest, most satisfying head fuzzing listens that’s come our way. That it continually makes you aware of what has potentially been removed as much as what’s been left, feels like a new and hugely pleasant state of mind.
Make time and enjoy the thick heady space it describes.
Celestial Devices is out now on cassette and digital here