In the universe of I Heart Lung, minimalism conveys great power and beauty and dissonance are two sides of the same coin. The heart and lungs of this collective are Chris Schlarb and Tom Steck; the former's guitar and electronic drones and the latter's talking drums combine to create soundscapes as delicate as summer rain or as tempestuous as a raging sea. Following on the heels of the excellent Between Them a Forest Grew Trackless and Quiet (SAA, 2007), Interoceans has perhaps less harshness about it, but displays no less ambition and takes as its central theme oceans, in a continuous four-part suite.
From start to finish, Interoceans took nearly three years to create. First, four drone pieces were recorded and then, over a period of time, collaborations with other musicians were made. The splicing together of these contributions and field recordings brought this project to a conclusion in August 2008.
Rumbling tom-toms suggest turbulence in "Upwelling" and Schlarb's guitar, part power chord and part- drone, bursts onto the scene with menace; if ever there was a soundtrack to a tsunami this is it. The drone fades and delicate gong, chimes and cymbals provide release from the tension. When Schlarb's simply strung acoustic guitar chords arrive, it is like sun breaking through the clouds. A Robert Fripp-like drone brings calm and stillness to proceedings.
Schlarb's Fripp-inspired drone begins the second part of the suite "Overturning," the ambience echoes the epic quality of Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow. (Atlantic, 1976) A keening, yearning trumpet played by Kris Tiner steers the piece away from the fantastical towards an altogether darker world while Steck's drums arrive from nowhere, gathering momentum, accompanied by Nels Cline on guitar. This highly atmospheric piece grows to inhabit a space where the psychedelia of the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis meet. It is quite hypnotic, ebbing, flowing and receding with power and grace.
The third part "Undercurrent" is a deeply meditative, dreamy composition; Cline, this time on sitar, lays down some beautifully tempered lines that gradually build against a slow motion drum beat and shimmering cymbals, somehow suggesting the breathing of the ocean, its vastness. Anthony Shadduck's ever-effective and softly plucked acoustic bass adds to the beauty of this piece.
The final part, "Outspreading," brings together lively percussion with simple acoustic guitar, electronic sounds and feedback-drone. Flugelhorn and trumpet haunt the background like ghostly voices before all the instrumentation fades to nothing, briefly, before the horns return in uneasy harmony, a portent for the tempest to come. Steck's drums are a storm all by themselves, though guitar and effects enhance the drama no end. It all climaxes in a crescendo of sound.
The production values on Interoceans and the work of Chris Schlarb are excellent, this opera would surely sound magnificent on a good sound system. As it is, it sounds damned good on a very ordinary one and it gets better with each listening. It's a work of great subtlety and profundity.
Personnel: Chris Schlarb: electric guitar, 6- and 12-string acoustic guitar, electronics and percussion; Tom Steck: acoustic
drums, cymbals and percussion; Nels Cline: electric guitar, sitar and percussion; Dave Easley: pedal steel
guitar; Lynn Johnston: clarinet, bass clarinet; Andrew Pompey: percussion; Anthony Shadduck: acoustic bass;
Kris Tiner: flugelhorn, trumpet; Aaron Ximm: field recordings.