One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But… I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.
Thomas A. Edison
What is music’s greatest invention? The brain instantly flicks to guitars, violins, even drums – but where would music be without tape? Without recording equipment? Without speakers?
The earliest musical recordings were made using a Phonautograph, as long as go as 1857. Invented by the brilliantly named Parisian, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, his invention allowed sound to be recorded in the form of sheets of paper, with prints of sound waves created by a vibrating stylus cutting through a coating of soot. These were all well and good, but unfortunately by the time one of these phonautograms was actually made into something you could listen to, it was 2008 and we’d all moved on a little.
Music recording really began to take off with Thomas Edison’s invention the Phonograph Cylinder. This used the principle of imprinting grooves onto the exterior of wax cylinders, a technology that would later be adapted to the disc phonograph, a shape that was cheaper to produce, and crucially easier to transport and store. The early incarnation of these discs was in the form of shellac or similar brittle plastic – these would of course later be replaced by the vinyl discs we still produce today, invented by Colombia Records at the end of the 1940’s.
Of course printing the music was one thing, but without the invention of the microphone they’d have had nothing to print onto the discs. Without stereos, what would we listen to them on? And what about digital recording? Sure it’s got it’s detractors but it’s opened up recording and producing music to the masses.
As is so often the way with invention, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – but we should all be thankful that someone worked out how to make the music in our heads accessible to the world. A world without music we’ll sure you agree, is completely unthinkable!
Inventions is the collaborative effort of two friends more famous for their work in other bands; ambient recording artists Matthew Cooper of Eluvium and Mark T.Smith, guitarist in Texan Post-Rock act Explosions In The Sky, who is not to be mistaken with the rather different Mark E. Smith!
Their latest album starts with the line “I wanted to do something that I don’t know how to do” which would certainly suggest a side project that wasn’t going to just stick to their regular bands day job. What they’ve produced is a fascinating blend of styles and instrumentation. They blend chiming, cinematic guitars with processed beats, samples, and unusually for these two, a strong emphasis on the human voice.
The album was crafted and mixed on the coast of Oregon, which is where Matthew is from. Oregon, of course has a strong musical heritage stretching back to the early days of Rock’n’Roll and the like of The Kingsmen, most famous for their hit Louie Louie. A lot of Oregon’s most famous musical sons have been based out of the so called “hipster mecca” of Portland, including bands like The Decemberists, M.Ward and The Dandy Warhols.
The duo’s first release, the eponymously titled Inventions came out just last April on Temporary Residence Ltd. Impressively, less than a year later their second album will also arrive. That album, Maze Of Woods coming out once again on Temporary Residence in the US, as well as a UK deal with Bella Union.
Adventurous, textured, intricate and unquestionably beautiful soundscapes. The combination of Matthew Cooper’s background in ambient and electronic music is the perfect foil to Mark Smith’s beautiful fragments of post-rock tinged guitar playing. They combine these influences not just to the sum of their parts but to create something entirely new.
It’s an album bristling with new ideas; the percussive, echoing guitar that sounds like it’s being played with a drum stick on Slow Breathing Circuit, the processed strings on Wolfkid that sounds somewhere between an echoing harp and a galloping horse, the bass on opening track Escapers that’s so low as to be barely audible, but remains to create the feeling of the music pressing onto your ears. It’s as creative an album as you’re ever likely to hear.
In an album that feels so much like a collective piece it’s hard for tracks to stand out, but Springworlds with the heavily processed repeated vocal that’s heavily manipulated but still just audible as “so blessed, so real”, recalls acts like Jeniferever or even Sigur Ros. Whilst the melding of beats with traditional instrumentation on A Wind From All Directions recalls Jimmy LaValle’s work in his collaboration with Mark Kozelek. Closing track, Feeling The Sun Thru The Earth At Night, combines the solid thud of a constant kick drum, with walls of synths and a swell of voices more reminiscent of a pagan chant than a choir.
Can anything ever be too pleasant? This gets a bit close to just being a very pretty wash of sound, and if you’re not careful you won’t even notice it’s on. It’s arguably a little one paced and that pace isn’t exactly heart-thumping. That aside it’s a really lovely record and the attention for detail is frankly mind-blowing, you just need to listen carefully to notice it.
Maze Of Wood is out March 16th on Bella Union (UK) & Temporary Residence (USA)