Laurel Halo


The latest record from the Ann Arbor-borh electronic producer evokes dappled light and splashes of colour, for Jaša Bužinel

“When we try to remember a dream… often we only retain a skeleton of the dream images… a vague grid, through which fragmented forms emerge and disappear as quickly as they came,” wrote Czech painter František Kupka in his notebook. His stunning painting ‘L’Eau (La baigneuse)’, a post-impressionistic prelude to abstraction with a featureless nude female in a lake, gorgeously complements Laurel Halo’s composition ‘Naked to the Light’, a celestial soundwave of immersed jazzy piano chords and ethereal strings. It’s music that evokes the feeling of a half-remembered dream.

Since the days of Freud, Jung & co, water is amongst the ,most common symbols for the unconscious, the nooks and crannies of our psyche. Unsurprisingly, Halo describes her new record as a “road trip music for the subconscious.” The aquatic – or rather sub-aquatic – patina is central to Atlas, which marks a departure from her previous work. Even though the idea of listening to another quarantine-inspired ambient record might seem off-putting, the rewards are simply too tempting.

I can’t escape associations to late 19th/early 20th century art. Atlas feels like an example of what I’d call ‘watercolour ambient music’. It makes me think of tonalism, the American artistic movement inspired by the French Barbizon style and characterised by subtle gradations of the colour tones. Artists would emphasise mood, feeling, evocation and suggestion. When I hear the pensive piece ‘Late Night Drive’, I imagine the painting ‘Nocturne in grey and silver’ by James Whistler as the view from the window of my car. Listening to ‘Reading the Air’, I see myself as J. M. W. Turner while he was working on his masterpiece ‘Sea and Sky’. Halo’s music provides strong poetic associations, the kind you get when presented with sublime natural phenomena and inexplicable events. ‘Sick Eros’ boasts a transcendental aura, something we associate with other Turner’s works such as ‘Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)’.

Atlas brings forth a sonic tapestry of soothing electroacoustic textures with contributions by Bendik Giske, James Underwood, Lucy Railton and Coby Sey. There are submerged impressionistic soundscapes that nod to Basinski’s piece ‘Watermusic II’, improvised piano sketches in the tradition of Satie’s furniture music and gossamer string arrangements à la Jelinek. Her music is defined by an ‘aquarelle effect’, with her translucent sounds operating as flowing watercolours. While structurally different, Julian Zyklus’ release Waterpiano, which shares similar sensibilities, springs to mind.

A few years ago, I swam in a moonlit Adriatic sea while high on molly, and the silky-soft piano melodies of ‘Sweat, tears or sea’, a kind of underwater tribute to Debussy, take me back to that moment, which felt like floating in mercury. There is a deep sense of yearning permeating Halo’s compositions, yet they are also marked by a sense of hope and optimism – the kind of transient joie de vivre one experiences when the last rays of light kiss your skin before sundown. Listening to the title composition, I remember standing at Antigonea, Albania, an ancient city allegedly built by the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus on a hill overlooking the Drino Valley. There I observed unique cloud formations above the Mali i Gjerë Mountains while a distinct Ionian light transfixed them in an awe-inspiring natural spectacle – a dream image.

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