Sonar With David Torn: Tranceportation (Volume 1 - 2)

Mark Sullivan By

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Swiss art rock/minimalist band Sonar have been collaborating with American guitarist/live looper David Torn since their album Vortex (RareNoiseRecords, 2018). After that they documented live performance together with Live At Moods (7d Media, 2018), and Torn also played a prominent role in Sonar leader Stephan Thelen's Fractal Guitar (MoonJune Records, 2019).

Torn had come to the Vortex sessions primarily as producer. But his guest playing slots were so exciting for both him and the band that he was added as fifth member throughout. That music had been composed for a quartet, with Torn spontaneously reacting to the other parts. The Tranceportation music was composed with Torn in mind from the beginning, so his role is more integral. A marathon five-day recording session yielded over 80 minutes worth of music: the decision was made to release it in two parts.

Sonar With David Torn
Tranceportation (Volume 1)

The first volume opens with "Labyrinth," the longest track on either album. A slow build of the sort of repetitive rhythmic figures that is Sonar's strong suit, it also leaves plenty of space for Torn's atmospherics and ecstatic soloing. Also a group climax and a soundscape fade out. "Partitions" follows with the shortest track: a simpler pattern, with a more textural Torn contribution. Proof that Sonar's approach can be equally effective in smaller doses.

"Red Sky" finds Torn soloing melodically over a rhythmic ostinato at the beginning, and after the full band enters he engages in his trademark twisted whammy bar manipulation during the solo sequences. "Tunnel Drive" concludes the set with Sonar's guitars in their most melodic mode before giving way to a fuzz Torn solo. It all ends abruptly with pattern repetition from the Sonar guitars.

Sonar With David Torn
Tranceportation (Volume 2)

"Triskaidekaphilia" begins the second album more deliberately, its rhythmic patterns underscored by Torn's soundscapes. It eventually erupts into a Torn solo, before settling back down to pattern. The title tune—which admittedly stretches the term "tune" a bit—has an expansive groove with Torn's wild interjections for spice.

"Slowburn" is unlikely to be confused with the Peter Gabriel song with the same title, but it shares the same deliberate pace. Torn's solos are lyrical targets, focusing the listener's attention. Closer "Cloud Chamber" is not as spacey as the title implies, but it is another moderate tempo groove. It prompts atmospheric textures, concluding the album, and the pair.

Could this duo of albums have been released as a single CD? Technically, yes—or at least close—since their play time totals just over 80 minutes, the current limit for a CD's run time. Vortex was just over 56 minutes long. Both Tranceportation volumes clock in at around 40 minutes (roughly an LP's play time), so they are more compact. But they were programmed effectively as two independent installments, and work very well that way. While there is nothing preventing listeners from playing them back to back, each installment really does make an independent statement. There was a special energy to the initial meeting between Sonar and Torn, but these recordings show how the relationship has matured.

Tracks and Personnel

Tranceportation (Volume 1)

Tracks: Labyrinth; Partitions; Red Sky; Tunnel Drive.

Personnel: Stephen Thelen: tritone guitar; Bernhard Wagner: tritone guitar; Christian Kuntner: tritone bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums; David Torn: electric guitar, live looping and manipulation.

Tranceportation (Volume 2)

Tracks: Triskaidekaphilia; Tranceportation; Slowburn; Cloud Chamber.

Personnel: Stephen Thelen: tritone guitar; Bernhard Wagner: tritone guitar; Christian Kuntner: tritone bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums; David Torn: electric guitar, live looping and manipulation.

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