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Ariel Kalma & Robert Lowe
‎FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow Tristan Bath , April 29th, 2015 12:09

In tandem with the release of We Know Each Other Somehow comes the surreal abstract film, Sunshine Soup, a documentary of sorts exploring the process behind the album's creation at Ariel Kalma's home in Mullumbimby, New South Wales. We see Robert Lowe bent over a babbling river, field recording via the microphone grasped in his right hand. We see Ariel Kalma leading Lowe through the idyllic natural surroundings, pointing out colourful sweet-smelling flowers to sample. We see Kalma cross-legged on a beach, tapping out ringing tones on Tibetan bowls in a ritual for nobody more than himself and the sand. We see Lowe staring out at the lapping waves, in a state of utter serenity. There's little-to-no dialogue, and only sporadic images of the pair really working together behind their instruments, and yet the film - shot on knowingly grainy Super 8 film and littered with vintage visual effects - captures the spirit of the collaboration perfectly.

We Know Each Other Somehow is the twelfth volume in the FRKWYS series on Matt Werth's RVNG Intl. label. Each volume in the series has brought together a 'contemporary electronic' with one of their musical ancestors, leading to such pairings as Sun Araw and The Congos, or Blues Control and Laraaji, but where other pairings have been somewhat more counter-intuitive, and occasionally unexpectedly jarring, the meeting between Kalma and Lowe seems utterly natural. Presumably, hence the title. Ariel Kalma's been making music since the late-1960s, initially working as a sax-and-flute side man for various international pop singers, eventually taking his experimental music hobby more seriously and recording an album at the studio of musique concrete pioneer, Pierre Henry in his hometown of Paris. Forty years and several brilliant albums bathed in obscurity followed - including the man's seminal Osmose album in 1978 - until eventually RVNG Intl. released An Evolutionary Music, a compilation of Kalma's work aimed at rediscovering the man's singular mix of new age proto-electronica and spiritual jazz. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe should need little introduction (for a more in-depth look at the man here's an interview I conducted with him for the Quietus last year). He rose as a member of Chicago post-punkers 90 Day Men, before venturing into the realm of meditative introverted music under his Lichens moniker. That project saw him gradually eschew all instruments other than modular synthesizer and vocals, a setup with which he now crafts instinctive improvisations (one of which was very well captured on the Timon Irnok Manta album).

Lowe and Kalma operate using utterly similar yet decidedly distinct methods. Nowadays, Lowe tends to favour utterly free improvisation, working (as is possible with his modular setup) completely outside the boundaries of Western tonality. Kalma's compositions often owe more to traditional Western scales and song structures, while assuming Eastern timbres and chant-like repetitions. Musically, We Know Each Other Somehow has the pair meet completely in the middle, Lowe seemingly tamed into making some of his most approachable and structured music, while Kalma is stretched to his instinctive core. Lowe's made it clear that Kalma's Osmose, which featured jungle sounds alongside Kalma's freewheeling proto-new age music, has been a personal favourite record of his, and on 17-minute opener, 'Magick Creek' Lowe sets the scene, using that aforementioned field recording of an Australian river, placed alongside a gradually revolving synth tone whirring across the stereo field. Kalma tentatively enters with a few blows on his flute before switching to saxophone, rifling through melodies in a raga-like manner. Lowe introduce further cosmic synth effects, along with a slow retro-sounding arpeggio, starkly artificial in contrast to Kalma's crystal clear sax notes. Ten minutes in, Lowe introduces a heartbeat of a rhythm, and the pair seem to take right off, superimposing interstellar travel atop the zen-like sounds of the Australian jungle.

The relatively concise four-minute track, 'Mille Voix' ("Thousand Voices") is one of the starkest works by either artist. Lowe's voice has become as powerful an instrument as any Kalma's saxophone, and here it traces a spellbinding wordless high-pitched vocal atop a chilling ocean of pads, Kalma all the while weaving reeds in and out of any available gap. it matches Popol Vuh's classic soundtrack albums in terms of the sheer ability this music has to ensnare the listener, and evoke a sort of magic realism - confusingly making the synthetic appear organic and vice versa. 'Gongmo Kalma Lowe' is perhaps the oddest track on the album, filled with screaming bursts of synthesiser, clattering almost-industrial gong like sounds, more pulsing kick drum beats, and a worryingly unresolved chord sequence in its bed. The more comfortingly familiar meditation of 'Strange Dreams' follows though, utilising tacky old synth sounds (presumably from Kalma's collection of aging gear) to spin a series of interlocking arpeggios. It could almost wind up akin to Terry Riley soundtracking David Attenborough, but Kalma and Lowe sing to one another across the mix, Kalma electing ape-like chants, akin to Balinese kecak in slow motion.

The second half of the collaboration comprises two more long form pieces, the first of which is as pure a piece of drone music as you've ever heard. It's straight from the old school of slowly shifting new age meditation releases, even featuring what sounds like Kalma blasting a didgeridoo ala Phill Niblock, with all the urgency of a shifting planetary orbit, and gradually aligning with the array of synth tones Lowe is commanding. It's meditative to the extreme, only shifting slightly in its closing moments with burgeoning rhythms suggestively emerging before the fade out. The nineteen minute finale, 'Miracle Mile', sees the pair go properly feral, quite simply jamming sax and synth atop metronomic tribal shakers and hand claps, as well as Lowe's modular synth drum machine loops. Kalma makes heavy use of tape delay with his sax (something he's done since the 70s), stumbling across fortuitous Glassian patterns as triplets of notes cluster into unexpected shapes over Lowe's pulsing cosmic backdrop, replete with more field recorded jungle tranquility. It's the closest the pair come to a 'jam', almost sparring on the astral plane. The record comes to a close feeling as if they're really only just beginning; that Kalma and Lowe are perfectly matched collaborators, with infinite potential.

New age music is a strange art form. Few other musics are as obsessed with their own imagery and internal folklore, criss-crossing Eastern philosophies into one amorphous mass of badly photoshopped zen collage, ready for boho trousered believers to zone out on. But this in no way impedes upon its intrinsic value. You don't have to suspend your disbelief to find this music compelling. They're stretching the fabric of time itself with these drones and repetitions, reconstituting instinctive organic matter into something alien via technology. The common ground between Ariel Kalma and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, is in their ability to coax ghosts out of machines, and allure them into a compelling conversation. This is a highlight for the discographies of both artists, and stands alongside FRKWYS' ninth volume (Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras and The Congos) as a breathtakingly successful intergenerational collaboration, synthesising old, new, organic and synthetic into starkly original masterpiece.