Beholder by Julia Reidy

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Julia Reidy | Beholder
A Guide To Saints/Room40 (CS/DL)

Berlin-based Australian guitarist Julia Reidy (who plays with Splitter Orchester) dedicates Beholder, her third full-length recording, to fellow guitarist, Melbourne’s Phil Houghton who passed last Fall. The tape includes four tracks (ranging from five to nearly 15 minutes each) begun on the island of Syros, during a residency called Sounding Paths. Side one begins with the quick guitar fingering of Imminently. From the start it’s got a folky soul twang, and the heart of John Cage in the way in which she wrangles the strings. It’s fairly bare other than a steady muted high pitch in the very deep background, and a nearly imperceptible low drone. She starts to play chords in a way that crosses dirge with abstract nu-classical, and ends up sounding as if she’s weaving an acoustic cross-stitch.

Julia Reidy

When Syros begins it’s a bit of a blur, a listening respite after the fervor of her miraculous fingers on the previous track, which return after an ambient start. The more I listen the more I start to recognize the structure, similar to Steve Reich in its clinical looping, however more Earthy and raw as presented by Reidy. I enjoy the short notes in succession, and how she changes it up every twenty seconds or so, floating back and forth. She wields a guitar the way, say, Cecil Taylor optimized his piano, or Meredith Monk embosses the human voice, the reflections are poker-faced, yet her playing is stirring – particularly when gongs and half-tuned radio emissions float in and out. For those about to rock, she salutes you with Jfai, however there’s a spacey twist. One that literally balances an ambient sci-fi theme with a whir of cranking guitar, half-removed but in midrange. Reidy is channeling any number of guitar gods/goddesses here, but the restraint of the mix is what makes this special. Her eccentric blend of modifications are at their most obscure and dramatic here.

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On the last piece here, its title track, what sounds almost like a traditional Irish jig of sorts at first is a bit of another quick string jam. The mix is slightly fueled by naked treble, and you can hear every string squeak as her digits go to work. This is the type of playing that may send a musician into a meditative state, when the instrument becomes a true extension of the self. I’m reminded of visual travelogues by Werner Herzog for some unbeknownst reason – but I think because the same type of rigor and chances you have to take are dared here. The enigmatic coverart which is handmade silkscreen simply leaves you in the sense of mystery that belies this particular piece, it rolls on and on, in homage to a teacher, a mentor. The stringed scribbles go on a bit too long though Reidy did make some room for optics towards the end, some short ambient passages stippled with elongated tones, and when her playing and the background meet, in those breaks, the atmosphere shifts into cooler temperatures. These field recordings (and synths), from Greece, Japan and Germany, help balance her otherwise skilled, agile guitar work.

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This review is part of Womens Work Week – a celebration of international women working in experimental and electronic music genres. If you enjoy this review you may also be interested in one of these additional releases that we are covering this week on Toneshift.net:

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