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Christina Vantzou
No. 4 Tom Bolton , April 24th, 2018 07:24

Missouri-born, Brussels-based maths teacher and composer makes another dense, involving and rewarding album for Kranky Records

Christina Vantzou is a maths teacher by day and, if her music is anything to go by, her classroom must be a strange and otherworldly place. Her music has been described as ethereal, but it is much more than that. There is nothing floaty or fey about the deep, muscular soundscapes constructed by Vantzou and her collective. She worked on this album over two years with musicians who play percussive and expressive instruments including vibraphone, gong, bells, marimba, harp and synthesizers. The group approached the creation of the eleven tracks here through a process of what Vantzou describes as “prepared spontaneity”, everyone arriving with ideas and knowing those ideas will become something else. The result is an immersive album of remarkable clarity, entirely confident, drawing the listener all the way in.

Vantzou’s music could also be described as ambient, and particular influences can be detected. The theme of sleep is explored throughout the album, and tracks are reminiscent of Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange’s Inventions For Radio. However, instead of spoken dream narrative over layers of shifting sound, Vantzou brings quiet and distinct instrumental lines to the fore. The album also brings to mind Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, as though the samples were played by live instruments, or the less excitable tracks on his Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, where the music seems to drift in space. ‘At Dawn’ has a synthesizer playing the trace memory of a tune. There are no words on this album but there are vocals, including a gasping vocal wave on ‘Some Limited And Waning Memory’. An unspoken narrative binds the tracks together and they progress through states of uncertainty - from the uneasy strings of ‘No. 4 String Quartet’ to an enquiring piano on ‘Staircases’ to Haxan Cloak-esque threat on ‘Sound House.’

The album is varied, full of miniature surprises. ‘Lava’ swells from start to finish just as its title suggests, coming closer and closer. But is that really the riff from Status Quo’s ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ at the start? ‘Garden Of Forking Paths’ sounds like a recording of a bouncing ball, both unsettling and funny. Final track ‘Remote Polyphony’ is a wash of sounds, like a whole world waking up at once, both beautiful and troubling. It is a powerful piece, and a fitting conclusion to an album that is dense, involving and rewarding. Christina Vantzou’s musicianship and that of her collaborators makes her music seem both simple and inevitable and to achieve that is, as everyone knows, the hardest thing of all.