Review Summary: Capturing nature's abstract melody
The Codiaeum variegatum is a species of evergreen shrub native to the western Pacific Ocean islands, growing in open scrub and forests. Its image, gracing the cover of Anne Guthrie’s latest record of the same name, acts as the symbolic representation of her approach to music; taking simultaneously organic and natural occurrences and structuring them around classically composed instrumentation. Captured through the guise of a parabolic microphone (a microphone that uses a circular reflector to collect and focus sound waves onto a receiver), the fleeting, whimsical, and often volatile randomness of nature is as every bit an instrument here as Guthrie’s arrangements on French horn, violoncello, and contrabass. Just as the Codiaeum variegatum is vivid, natural, and lively in its natural state, Guthrie’s harmonious compositions of universal and classically trained phenomena are similarly spirited and stimulating in ways that go far beyond the reaches of traditional music and sound.
In Guthrie’s attempt to capture nature with her microphone and recording devices, it would be laborious to sit through a series of uninterrupted field recordings with the sole objective of capturing nature at its most transparent and linear, so rather than focus on absolute purity, her field recordings act as fading and momentary fragments of time around her wandering orchestral arrangements. A series of deeply moaning violoncello and contrabass guide the opener “Branching Low and Spreading” into swollen and sepia-toned states before concentrating on greener pastures by way of flourishing natural happening such as feathery bird calls, whispering wind tones, and a distant waterfall. Consequently “Strongly Leaning with Irregular Crown” follows suit with a few minutes of seamlessly collaged water flow and isolated bird chants, while a sparse orchestral drone hums in the background before warping into a state of nothingness within its peaceful surroundings. Later static and winds of deformed French horn blow away the serene field recordings into a state of decay, predicting the impending surreal and abstract play on melody that’s to come.
’s predominantly lush and tranquil field recordings become corrosive and disintegrated on “Unlike More Slender and Graceful”, as a hollow tunnel of electronically perished textures swallow the abundance of life throughout the record whole, while following concurrently coarse and faint horn bellows. “Long Pendulous” whimpers alongside exceedingly depraved horn obscurities as a thick and foreboding span of muffled natural sound expands the background, while an unsettling and screeching noise later flattens out the spiking horn strains into a series of tumorous low-end drones. The acutely titled “Rough Above with Uneven Base” twists multiple layers of similarly warped resonance to the point where Guthrie's French horn and field recordings become frighteningly unrecognizable. It’s here where Guthrie’s ability to transform the original atmosphere of her recordings to the point of abstraction, be it in the field or with live instrumentation, makes Codiaeum variegatum
an unusually eccentric, ambitious, and singular experience within an already unconventional frame.
Being a species of plant that relies on tropical climates to blossom and flourish, we find Codiaeum variegatum
ending with the cold and bitter resonance of “Persists into Winter”, a mournful ambient piece that mutates its bleak contrabass arrangement to the sound of a funeral organ, as the unforgiving intensity of winter strips the Codiaeum variegatum of its kaleidoscopic leaves and reduces it to a hanging, skeletal branch in the wind. Codiaeum variegatum
captures the outside world in a fixed, surreal, and hallucinatory state, documenting the cycle of life from growth and blossoming to death and decay. Its elements, rooted in the natural and dreamlike, take specific environments and obscure their sonic identities while processing seemingly organic sounds into melodic sounds. While often these sounds are accidental through nature or improvised through instrumentation, Codiaeum variegatum
is programmatic by principal through Guthrie’s precise process of layering, sequencing, and obscuring of the natural and unnatural; creating sound worlds that are inherently subtle and distant, yet hazy and buried by the vanishing of memory.