Light Pipe by M. Geddes Gengras

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M. Geddes Gengras | Light Pipe
Room40 (2xCD/DL)

M. Geddes Gengras latest, Light Pipe, is an extremely long affair. Clocking in at over two and a half hours, you would be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of durational piece, however, the album consists of 10 tracks that though cohesive, are nonetheless largely distinct entities drawn from Gengras site-specific practice. Relying upon very simple sonic tools, Gengras submerges his listener in a dense and sometimes claustrophobic sound world. As the artist makes clear, this is music for sleep – at its best, the sonic landscape leaves almost no lasting impression, with endless waves of plucks and arpeggios lost to a sea of thick reverb and delay.

It is an eminently pleasant experience, and whilst some criticism could be raised as to the overtly functional nature of the sounds used, not to mention the reliance on a number of ambient tropes, it is precisely for this reason that the music works so well.  An envelopment of the senses is achieved by the visceral monotony of the experience, with the mind never affronted by the unexpected, or the strange, but instead totally embedded in a seemingly endless tapestry. As successful as this effect is, there is no escaping the sheer volume of material on offer. Given the inherent similarity of the work, it’s reliance on the same fundamental sound world throughout, I question the rationale for the inclusion of several of the tracks. Whereas the opening track, Mirror, clearly sets the tone and scope of the album as a whole, the following two tracks seem a little wayward and, lacking the length of many of their peers, struggle to offer the same degree of immersion as the album as a whole.

Tracks such as Nave and Water Study both include sonic elements that actually serve to distract the listener from the otherwise all-encompassing soundscape, with the wash of frozen reverb which the album so liberally applies tiring the ear, drawing the otherwise cognitively embedded listener back into their body.  As such, Light Pipe works best when it is at its simplest. Chancel – the longest track at some 26 minutes – stands out precisely because it labours for so long over such simple means, with a sea of clangs, drones and plucks eventually giving way to the most ‘composed’ point of the album, a gloriously tense assault of Neo-classical fervour.

There is a clear homage to the more abstract work of Tangerine Dream throughout, particularly pronounced by the melodic qualities of the numerous synths that so regularly make an appearance. Such a comparison is all the more prescient for the high quality of Gengras work – not mere emulation, the composer demonstrates a deep understanding and affinity with this approach to synthesis, restating the ambient-prog of his influences with noted precision.

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This sound world is offset by a wealth of more percussive strings, and Light Pipe shines when the composer strikes a suitable balance between these two sonic approaches.  The final third of the album – consisting of the epic trilogy of Irwin, Pinnacle, and Vulture – offers some truly remarkable interplay between vaguely orientalist leads and semi-random plucks, a conversation set to a backdrop of high-pitched buzzes and pulsing, alien bass.  Arguably the key aspect that makes these latter tracks soar in comparison to some of the earlier efforts, is their more nuanced approach to processing. Whilst they rely on the same level of reverb and delay, such effects feel here a legitimate part of the compositional process, articulating and enamouring the sounds they touch, rather than simply obscuring them.

On Irwin in particular, the durational nature of such a long album finally makes sense, with a real feeling that this track alone could run for several hours without losing its inherent power, its unwavering capacity for immersion. Light Pipe is an ambitious album, with a no less ambitious length – and whilst not all of its sprawling 2 and half hours works flawlessly, there is an hour or so of exceptional material buried within its walls that succeeds in recognising and meeting the highest achievements of its genre.

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