Grouper (Liz Harris) is quite “Hot”.
And with that, I am not referring to the fact that she is female, which obviously is a rare feat in the male dominated world of ambient music (listeners, as well as musicians).
She’s ‘hot’ because she manages to appeal to a (relatively) large audience by merging different backgrounds, combining sleepy bedroom folk with laptop lo-fi and electronic minimalism.
Her recent performance (in my hometown) sold out quicky and raised a relatively fair amount of buzz. In her performance she did not touch any guitar, did not sing any tune – she just shuffled and mixed some cassette-tape recordings into an uncompromisingly minimal, William Basinski-like set of “Sleep” (from “Violet Replacement“).
Looking around and watching a silent (!) crowd (of about 150) listening to this slowly deteriorating piece, most of them with eyes closed, I could not help but wonder why I did not see most of these people at other ambient music performances.
Two days earlier I enjoyed a brilliant performance of Machinefabriek, Celer and Kleefstra-Bakker-Kleefstra – with only some 20 other people in the audience. Which was a shame, because this deserved to be heard by a lot more – I realised that most of this Grouper audience definitely would have enjoyed that performance too!
Most of Grouper’s previous recordings are not as minimal as this performance of “Sleep”. The fact that she’s crossing over from hazy bedroom electronics may very well be the reason why she guides her audience into the deep and sleepy realms of minimalist ambient music. Almost unnoticed..
Until yesterday, I had some doubts about reviewing “Foreign Body”, a new release by Mirrorring (a duo featuring Liz ‘Grouper’ Harris and Jesy ‘Tiny Vipers’ Fortino (these two names together should obviously raise attention), because it’s not an ‘ambient’ album as most on this blog.
But with these thoughts about the recent Grouper performance in mind, I decided this album was well worth the attention, because it will probably appeal to a lot of ambient music listeners, too.
So – how’s that for a lengthy introduction?
“Foreign Body” is a Grouper/Tiny Vipers co-production that came about through a songwriting session in Portland, Oregon, in 2011.
Jesy and Liz work together in perfect harmony, each one adding to the other’s performance. Yet they have their own very personal style, which can be easily distinguished if you know any of the previous works of these performers.
The album opens with “Fell Sound” , which is mainly a Grouper track celebrating her distinct vague and sleepy style.
In style, this is quite different from the second track (“Silent from above”) which is “genuine Tiny Vipers“: Jesy’s tracks are firmly rooted in traditional folk and, accompanying herself with minimalistic repeating acoustic guitar theme, she has a bright, yearning voice to immediately fall in love with.
After these introductions, their respective style seems to merge into one perfect new sound, combining the dreamlike abstract with the utterly romantic. Like I said before, this has nothing to do with “ambient” music, apart from its uniquely strange, unearthly yet somehow familiar atmosphere. It is also worlds apart from the Sleep ambient music performance. But, joining their forces on this release, Grouper and Tiny Vipers nothing less but define a complete new sound, the kind of music that may help listeners cross over from “pop folk” to “ambient” – and vice versa.
Mirrorring – Drowning the Call
– (Also on Spotify)