Travis Johnson – Valsa (3″ CD-R, Pigdurt Productions)

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Valsa is an interesting piece of work from Travis Johnson. As the artist lists on his Bandcamp, some of the equipment that was used to create the single seventeen-minute track on this album includes “magnetic coils, open circuit radio, prepared speaker cone, pvc pipes, farting, guitar, percussion, balloon, computer”, all of which is very intricate. Yet somehow Johnson keeps Valsa minimalist, where the sources of the noise never really comes into question. Instead, the quiet drones and temporal wandering is created with an attention to detail that crafts intricacy into simplicity.

The reason why I bring up the different materials used on this recording is because I wasn’t quite sure what the base drone was created with. In actuality, it sounds rather synth-like to me, and after an experimental beginning, “Valsa” kicks in a sustained but dynamic blend of fluttering drones, ethereal and ringing, with a timbre that’s very hypnotic and lulling. Ultimately, it feels as though “Valsa” is another brand of drone, lilting but generic. But subtle changes in the sound, like cracklings and fuzzy electronics, add a dosage of change to the otherwise static sound. This play happens on and off through the track, through left and right balance, squeaks and manipulated noises, and it creates a jarring tension between somnolent drone and harsh cuts of crackle.

And thanks to the seemingly random bursts, it keeps the listener guessing, as a participant or observer for the noise. What will Travis Johnson incorporate next? It’s all thanks to the relatively unchanging backdrop of tones, an clever way to utilize hypnotic sound out of context to lull the listener and then “wake” them up again. The sound gets progressively noisier, along with a shift in the drone, until it ends with a culmination of the two sounds.

This is excellent minimalist drone noise. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is, but the experimentation is attractive and done very well. What’s even more satisfying is the notion that this track was probably very fun to make; messing with the instruments, crafting the metallic-tinged sounds, is more gratifying than the “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to noise, and one that gives the listener an observational role.

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