John Atkinson x Sabriel’s Orb – Split Tape

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John Atkinson + Sabriel’s Orb
Split Tape (Whited Sepulchre Records; CS/DL)

This is an interesting split tape by Brooklyn-based Australian sound artist John Atkinson and Salt Lake City’s ambient/techno artist Sabriel’s Orb (Willow Sky-Biggs). Released in a limited edition of 100 cassettes in the coming week, each side runs just under twenty minutes on Cincinnati’s experimental imprint, Whited Sepulchre Records.

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John Atkinson: Opening with Backwaves // Rye Atkinson delivers a harmonic foggy drone that rolls along. The ambient tone simply floats and slightly expands for the first half. In the second half incoming waves and distant drums enter the frame. Since the track uses the word Rye in its title all I recall are my youthful years visiting Rye Beach in New Hampshire, a beautiful slightly craggy coastline getaway. His infusion of synths are tentative, minimal, memory-inducing until unfurled like a cotton sheet in the wind. The drifting quietude puts you in the right headspace for his other piece here, First Rain of the New Year. There is this romantic notion about the weather, the first leaves falling, first snowfall, first sight of sprouts in your garden.

The use of minimal synths and field recordings of birds have their own inquisitive voices, everyday harmonies of Earthly things. When he brings in some volume the atmosphere rises, perhaps the calm before the storm. The reverberation he makes accentuates a bit of crackling fallout along the edges as its buzzing warp hits you at the core. And this sensation only builds and grows into a sweet drone wall. After receding a series of light-filled tonal highlights are added into an echo-y space, and the bird continues to caw as tiny droplets upon dry leaves make themselves known toward the tail end.

Sabriel’s Orb: Opening with an wide-eyed modular harmony Sky-Biggs’ sound is in full control with a late 70’s/early 80’s sci-fi synth soundtrack sensibility. It’s sweet, slightly dark, and emits pulsations that set the scene. This is Secret, and it writhes away in curiosity, not unlike other contemporary re-tellings (ala Stranger Things theme, etc.). I’m actually remembering the first time hearing Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon as a pre-teen. The top end here is more interesting than the staccato low-range which seems a bit more jagged than necessary, but it conveys the purr of a diesel engine opposing the silky stretched synthesizer. The two sounds clash, and so holds a unlocked ‘secret’.

Holding is different. Here she uses a wavy harmony in the cast of a mid-gray tone that is at once emotional and contemplative. Unlike the previous track, this piece seems quite contemporary in its loose structure. A new brighter, techno-lite layer slowly finds its way through the smoky surface, and by mid-track, though these diametric layers seem to be telling different stories, it becomes a bit of a unifying conversation. And this is the true sweet spot of her side here, one that irons conflict, something much needed in our overly politicized world. It’s an unexpected shape-shifter that doesn’t use clever effects, moreso it faces a complex fusion with a skillful grace.

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