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Maria Moles
For Leolanda Poppy Richler , January 31st, 2022 09:21

New on Room40, Melbourne's Maria Moles draws inspiration from the Kulintang music of the Philippines to produce a record rich with percussive sophistication, finds Poppy Richler

Maria Moles’ latest album, For Leolanda, is a stratified electro-acoustic exploration of familial history. The Melbourne-based composer and percussionist’s latest venture represents a merging of the complex jazz improvisations she produced with collaborator Adam Halliwell on Not One, Not Zero (2017) and the sound bath of refined echoes reached on Opening (2020). The result is a four track journey through thick layers of textural drums and synthesizers, constructing a minimalistic world rich with personal significance.

‘River Bend’ opens the album – a soothing synthetic wave ebbs and flows through both ominous and optimistic chordal patterns. One by one, percussive instruments introduce themselves. Interwoven with increasingly synthetic harmonic keys, the sounds are placed at different heights in the sonic pyramid. Accompanied by hastening patterns of wooden sticks, the drones suddenly become sinister, and the first dramatic turn has been reached.

The album’s second track, ‘In Pan-as’, establishes its own branch of Moles’ auditory family tree, through a thirteen-minute journey of dynamic turns. We are simultaneously propelled off a cliff by mechanically precise marching drums, and plunged into the depths of ethereal singing bowls. Despite this change in tempo and timbre, the booming drums do not cause heart palpitations as one might have thought. Instead, they coalesce into a hypnotic wall of sound against which one calmly rests.

‘Mansaka’ follows, rippling through the stratospheric ether. The Mansaka tribe is the dominant ethnic group within The Philippines’ Compostella Valley Province, its name translating to “the first people to ascend the mountains or go upstream”. That idea of ascension is prominent here. The listener is greeted by synthetic haloes replicating a heartbeat. Occasionally, a crescendo of chordal synths shoot through this pulse, on a course to a higher ground. Together, the elongated excess of each sound blends together, following these sounds upwards to the next dimension. It’s on this track that each instrument shows its respective tactile chops most clearly, simultaneously showcasing Moles’ diverse percussive experience. Whether it be the proximate reverberating gongs or the distant wind chimes, every element has been excavated to its core.

Finally, we arrive at ‘Distant Hills’. A distinguishable yet unfamiliar white noise underlies the final composition, creating a relationship between the textures and the acoustic/electronic characteristics of each instrument. This lays the groundwork for the emergence of the traditional Filipino instrument, the Kulingtang, whose tenor twangs immediately emerge from the sonic landscape. Recorded by Moles at The Music Archive of Monash University in Melbourne, each phrase subtly expands on the one before, creating a dialogue underscored by instrumentation from her roots. The album ends with two final strikes of the Kulingtang. A simple, personal and assertive sign-off, leaving the listener in awe of Moles’ percussive sophistication.