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M. Templeton + aA. Munson - Acre Loss
Though Anticipate's latest release weighs in at an economical thirty-nine minutes, Acre Loss is presented in both CD and DVD formats, enabling one to experience it as a musical collaboration between Mark Templeton and aAron Munson or as an audio-video collection of ten short films co-authored by the duo. Satisfying in either mode, the release weaves outdoor imagery of wintry Albertan landscapes with natural field recording elements and ambient guitar shadings into vivid, richly-detailed tapestries. Kitchen clatter and the babble of crowd conversation intermittently surfaces too, grounding the material in everyday human experience.
No recording in recent memory invites the "sound paintings" label as strongly as does Acre Loss. Scattering materials across the visual and sonic fields like Jackson Pollock throwing paint onto canvas, Templeton and Munson build up layers of effects until multi-hued arrangements of intricate design gradually come into focus and cumulatively bring into being the envisioned scenes. Extending the painterly metaphor further, some of the release's ten tracks function like sketches ("too small," "small one"), whereas others approximate large-scale collages ("looking Northward"). While the music is assembled using accordion, bass, synthesizer, percussion, and various effects, guitar is the central instrument (not surprisingly given Templeton's involvement) though it's hardly used in its conventional "soloing" capacity but more as a textural paintbrush. The range of sounds coaxed from the instrument can be arresting: cases in point, "aTest" sets the flutter and buzz of electrical tones adrift in lulling streams of crackle while "1 is to one as..." is speckled by clusters of guitar splinters. The ten-minute travelogue "looking Northward," which adopts a heavier, industrial-tinged style that leans towards "kosmische musik" even in the absence of a rhythm section, includes shudders and shimmering clusters one could hear as a nod to kindred Anticipate artist Klimek, and in "this will pass" birds chirp amidst metronomic banjo and guitar plucks that slowly morph into a neo-psychedelic trot. In its quieter moments, Templeton's acoustic picking even calls to mind the gentle playing Ry Cooder brought to his celebrated Paris, Texas soundtrack.
On the DVD, the duo augments its intergalactic hoe-downs and starry-eyed drones with kinetoscopic footage of snowy Albertan landscapes, bridge structures and train tracks, and faded home movie footage. The music's natural feel comes strongly to the fore when aligned to images of the sun streaming through barren treetops and illuminating open fields and skies that seem to go on forever. Sounds and visuals often meld into one, with bleeding ripples of feedback paired with flurries of tree branch patterns in "contents are," and brick and grid patterns tied to the stuttering march of streaming guitar lines during "it's ok to fall." That this evocative release received funding from the Edmonton Arts Council seems perfectly apropos, given how powerfully Acre Loss's outdoor sounds and wintry footage will resonate with those who've experienced first-hand the snow-covered plains of western Canada. And even if you haven't, you'll still know what it's like to see the steam rising off frozen lakes and feel the soft crunch of freshly-fallen snow under your feet. - Textura
Acre Loss was conceived as an audiovisual collaboration between musdician Mark Templeton and filmmaker Aaron Munson, culminating in 10 musical compositions to be accompanied by 10 short films. The two artists worked together at every stage in the project, which perhaps goes someway towards accounting for the eerily tangible sense of location and scene-setting in these electro-acoustic passages. This music is cinematic in the strictest sense; its environmental sounds and illustrative, foley-like constituent elements are suggestive of scenarios and images, lending an extra dimension to the musical narratives themselves. 'aTest' sounds like Grouper in a hail storm - a beautiful and surreal experience to get the album underway. Elements of field recordings, subtly filtered electronic elements and heavily cloaked vocals are key to the overall sound here, and this strange blend is delivered to mesmerising effect on more robustly constructed pieces like 'This Will Pass'. Short-form audio postcards 'Small One' and 'Too Small' draw influence on the guitar dislocations of Christian Fennesz, proving to be every bit as effective as the longer constructions like the ten-minute closer 'Looking Northward', which itself sounds like a daydreamed tribute to the verdant soundscapes of Mountains, or Tape. Excellent.
It feels kinda cheap to be reviewing solely the musical side of Acre Loss, a truly collaborative effort between Mark Templeton and aA. Munson. The project was conceived as an artistic melding of visual and audio mediums to be produced as a DVD which is supplemented with a CD of the musical tracks. As such, it only make sense that this thing is coming from Anticipate, who has already spearheaded similar projects seeking to further the marriage between the what we see and what we hear. Templeton is the audio artist here, following up his stunning debut for Anticipate, Standing On A Hummingbird, but Munson probably deserve equal credit for the music (as Templeton does for the visuals) so you'll have to simply remember that when I reference Templeton, I reference both. Still, standing alone, the musical score for Acre Loss is transcendently gorgeous and obviously cinematic in its scope and grandeur. Unfortunately, lots of music that is currently being made can be described in those terms. The unfortunate part isn't that there is lots of great music that is utterly beautiful and warm, glacial and imaginative, but that somehow detracts from the fact that Acre Loss is much more than that. Templeton's work is characterized by luxurious electro-acoustic melodies textured with various electronics and found sounds along the way. It is pretty common place in terms of ambient and drone based records, but Templeton must be just that much more charming than his contemporaries because he is somehow able to coax out platinum and diamonds when everyone else is only able to get gold and crystals. And yeah, gold and crystals are great, but, sheesh, it is nothing compared to what Templeton's got here with Acre Loss. You know what? Trying to describe just why Templeton's tones are so good reminds me of trying to describe The Fun Years album from last year. It is just that 'it' factor popping up again. Something involving the purity of love with which Acre Loss has been constructed harkens all of the very best in sound sculpture. Templeton may be fairly new in terms of his output, but he is certainly plugging away with the very top tier of what is coming out right now, and what has come out in the last ten years for that matter. Absolutely essential in every respect and from the looks of what I have seen from Munson's visual work, Acre Loss is sure to be an unparalleled achievement in terms of cross-media collaboration. - Forest Gospel
Non-narrative cinema has always had a complicated relationship with music. When I took a course in my undergraduate degree on Avant-Garde and Experimental Cinema, my professor made a comment-in regards to Stan Brakhage, who had a strict no-soundtrack policy-about music existing primarily to make experimental films easier to sit through. It almost seems like a conciliatory gesture towards people who find these films too "difficult," but there's no denying that the way in which music can exist without images doesn't seem to extend to the reverse scenario. This idea of music serving a token or secondary role in cinema is precisely what aAron Munson and Mark Templeton seem to be trying to overturn on their audio/video collaborationAcre Loss. The project is a full-blown collaboration: each component seems to have been created in parallel and you get the sense that there was a lot of back-and-forth, as opposed to Templeton simply scoring Munson's videos or Munson structuring his films around Templeton's music. The liner notes even give both members credit on both elements, though given each artist's specific background, there was probably more division of labour than this might suggest. The package comes with an audio-only CD as well as DVD, but the music doesn't quite stand up on its own; at least not in the way that Templeton's exceptional Standing on a Hummingbird (2007) does. But as a complete package, Acre Loss provides an incredible synthesis of sound and vision. Both Munson and Templeton hail from Edmonton, and the Canadian winter seems to play a pivotal role. But rather than depicting a bleak wasteland, it conveys a sense of people interacting with their snow-covered environment. Templeton's use of household items as source material-the light clanging of dishes and other incidental, domestic sounds-gives a strange sense of comfort, highlighting the slow movements of people going about their mundane daily activities in the midst of winter.
Using a combination of Super 8 and 16 film with modern HD processes, Munson gives a more painterly than naturalistic treatment, at times even rendering his material completely abstract. He often creates movement where there isn't any: opener "aTest" follows a rapid succession of blurred black-and-white images with a repeated movement of the camera vertically along a 180° axis, catching the bare branches of a tree on the way up, and feet walking along a sidewalk on the bottom. Rather than adopting the usual Minimalist steady cam, Munson allows the camera to shift around erratically, giving the impression of a dizzying subjectivity despite the strict, linear movements. On "It's OK to Fall" he combines a shaky low-angle shot of a telephone pole that makes the wires seem like strings of a marionette with other shots that transform static patterns into rapid shifts of light. Here the two artists show an incredible ability to respond to each other, with Templeton layering guitar drones that also, despite being relatively unchanging, give the impression of measured pulses underneath.
Rather than seeing Munson's use of modern video techniques alongside grainy 8mm footage as being a transformation of natural phenomena, it might be more fitting to consider his images as documenting the organic patterns behind modern technological processes-a concept that I already found in Templeton's music before I'd seen the film. "Saw to the Seed" opens with a double set of windows and a leaning tree visible outside, with one of the windows containing snaky bits of white static and a beautiful shot of someone running away. Not within the world of the window, but like the static, transposed in a haunting way; following in the long-standing cinematic metaphor of window-as-gateway-to-dreams. The music itself oscillates between lyrical guitar and bursts of static that often completely obscure the instrumentation, with a dark slow-exposure shot of shifting clouds layered over with close-ups of aquatic bubbles that occasionally look like snow but shift and disperse in all directions. The sheer visual impact of the images is striking on its own, but by combining images that still retain representative qualities-much like the muffled collection of unintelligible voices that round out the track-they manage to do one of the most admirable things you can do in any art form: to show the viewer/listener how the artists are transforming reality, rather than simply transforming it.
But by far the most staggering thing here, visually and musically, is "Safer," both artists' most minimal track. Amidst what could be the ocean or just the sound of traffic (a sign of Templeton's incredible ability to make typically banal, artificial sources sound like epic natural phenomena and vice-versa) and two clean guitar chords, Munson depicts an empty, snowy field with sunset-colored filters. The rest of the track has a distant figure walking across the horizon while Munson puts scratchy leader rising above him in the sky. At times the leader looks like really heavy rain, but then transforms into expressionist swirls. It's hard to describe the impact since they use so many well-worn cliches of both art-forms-prosaic nature shots, ultra-minimalist long takes, scratched 8mm film, the combination of guitar and field recordings-but the effect is breathtaking; something about the smallness but persistence of humanity in the face of chaos, or however you choose to interpret it. It makes you wonder why, with so many filmmakers and musicians working in a similar vein to both Templeton and Munson, that such synaesthetic explorations aren't more commonplace.
Mark Templeton enters the landscape, and the landscape enters him, and on and on. His cyclic synthesis erases logic that suggests cutlery is non-musical or that a guitar loop isn't living in a tree outside your bedroom window. Templeton lets indoor and outdoor sounds through a revolving door of wavering electronics and fragile melodies to create a kind of "day in the life" portrait of young man as prairie electronics artist. Collaborating with Templeton on the DVD portion of Acre Loss is fellow Edmontonian and filmmaker aAron Munson. The visuals, which served as backdrops at festivals such as the 2007 edition of Mutek, suit the abstract/referential balance of the audio. Ice and snow are layered over leafless branches and frosted windows. Human figures are shown in glimpses or fragments. Only on pieces like "1 Is To One As..." are things slowed and steadied enough to pause and observe, which in this case is the ritual of coffee making, a process that is echoed in sound moments throughout the album. From sound one it is one of the most evocative and complete marriages of audio and visual elements I've seen in many years. -Exclaim!
"I don't own CDs anymore." This shocking statement came to me from a friend, who had just turned 30 and had traded her entire physical music collection for the digital. Gone were the cases, the sleeves, the liner notes. "If I need anything," she told me, "I can just print it out." As this digital era unfolds, additional incentives are often necessary to entice consumers into making physical purchases.Mark Templeton has provided one such incentive by collaborating with filmmaker aA Munson for this mixed media project: a CD of songs accompanied by a DVD of visual interpretations. Templeton's last release, Standing on a Hummingbird, unfolded in filamental degrees and tended toward the abstract. The tracks on that album were elusive, dancing swiftly from recollection at the end of each play. This worked in Templeton's favor, as it invited repeated listens; and yet, the lack of distinctive, standout tracks made it difficult to praise the album as a whole.
The new album contains subtle changes that end up making a huge difference. For the first few seconds, we feel as if we are listening to the same album - the rustle and cutlery drops of "aTest" mimic those of "Amidst Things Uncontrolled" - but soon the differences become apparent. Templeton's repetitive passages are shorter, vanishing before we tire of them; his abrasive notes are pared down to a pleasing dissonance; his sound samples seem more deliberately placed. The result is a more organic-sounding album, with tracks that complement each other and could easily have been mixed for a seamless excursion. Perhaps the only reason this did not occur is that it would have thrown off the director. So what exactly is happening on Acre Loss? The album fits comfortably into the realm of soundscape, although it also contains elements of ambient and drone. To create these tracks, Templeton fed guitar, banjo, accordion, bass and percussion into a computer, lightly tweaked the samples (leaving the core instruments identifiable) and added field recordings. One of my pet peeves does come into play here - I have reviewed enough discs with the sound of children playing to make my own mixtape - but I'm going to let this one slide because it's the first infraction of 2009. The birds are okay by me: they make their first appearance at the beginning of track two and close the album out, as if intimating that the natural world will outlast the processed one. Because the album seems so warm and spring-like, the avian guests fit right in, and the hummingbird, at least, is certainly glad that Templeton is no longer standing on him.
Acre Loss presents sources and samples that alternate between background and foreground. The tracks are difficult to diagram because so many different sounds are produced: a glitch here, a hum there; a snatch of banjo, a burst of static. These coloring books are filled with many markers; on few occasions is a single instrument dominant, and even the shortest tracks (at 1:03 and 0:47) seem stuffed. The best is saved for last: the 10-minute "Looking Northward," a misty mélange of micromelodies and field recordings that drifts lazily toward a sedate conclusion, ending with the distant blast of a muted horn.
The DVD is definitely worth viewing. aA Munson has done a wonderful job of matching the music to sun-drenched Super 8 and Super 16mm video. The effect is one of hazy, homespun nostalgia. Like Templeton, Munson has an affinity for the repeated motif: a man walking across a snowy field, winter branches viewed from a moving car. But he also captures Templeton's organic sensibility with domestic images, finding fascination in the smoke rising from a cigarette or the convection of milk within a coffee cup. The images are layered, sometimes blurred, often swiftly shuffled - another homage to Templeton's technique. And while much of the video uses a muted palette, these hues are offset by striking bursts of color, which appear suddenly, like joyful angels.
I'd love to see more releases like this in the future: sound installations for the home. But even without the DVD, this is an excellent release for Templeton and a laudable step forward. - Silent Ballet
With his full-length debut, 2007's Standing on a Hummingbird, Montreal's Mark Templeton made a considerable splash amongst those in thrall to the hazily melodic drone stylings made famous by Christian Fennesz. Like Fennesz, Templeton mixed guitar with copious amounts of thick electronic textures. Simultaneously noisy and unabashedly pretty; noise shorn of its teeth.
This time around Templeton pairs up with filmmaker Aaron Munson to create ten audio visual pieces that again lean heavy on the bleary-eyed atmospherics in both the music and the film. But the various instruments - guitar, banjo, accordion, etc. - are not fully submerged in the pools of static and field recordings (including a cameo by some lovely chirping birds). Melodies and instrumental motifs don't so much peak out periodically, but rather exist on the same plane as the processed textural elements. With all of its crystalline guitar playing, Acre Loss is eerily akin to early records by the Swedish trio, Tape, but its ethereal, dreamlike vibe even more strongly recalls the vapor-haze murmurings of Grouper sans vocals.
The pleasantly muddied folkiness of many of the pieces is well matched by Munson's grainy super 8 and 16mm film footage - Munson and Templeton apparently collaborated closely throughout the making of the album. For all the processing one imagines went into the making of these tracks, there's an underlying structural simplicity to its swirl and drift. Likewise, though Munson uses contemporary HD processes, often it's the ragged and rough elements of the film stock that catch your attention, adding that extra organic feel to images of trees, the horizon line, whirling clouds, water bubbles and the like. It's all very seductively oneiric and gracefully constructed, but somehow its elegance is almost a point against the music. Its finest moments, such as the gently relentless guitar piece "Safer" or the gorgeous opening piece "aTest" are its most rough-hewn, providing a little more grit to grab onto. - Dusted Magazine