Geneva Skeen | A Parallel Array of Horses
I first encountered LA-based Geneva Skeen’s music in 2016 when she released Dark Speech on Dragon’s Eye Recordings. It was a departure from that label’s output, one that usually focuses on lowercase sounds, as Skeen’s was heavier, more industrial at times and utilized dramatic gestures.
Two years later, her new album on Lawrence English’s Room40 imprint explores themes of “mutant consciousness”, melding voice, electronics and field recordings. The processed vocals throughout this release lend it a unique character: ghostly, haunted and ephemeral. Meditating on the slipperiness of time, perception and reality, Skeen creates an ambience with edge, swaying between blurred drones and resonating synths.
Opening track “The Sonorous House” begins with field recordings of a storm, groaning and stirring, as if Skeen’s sound world is waking up from a deep sleep, slowly emerging into the waking world. These small sounds are gradually subsumed by hissing and eventually overloaded by a hard buzzing synth line. There is an almost-melody under the weight of the synths which gets stretched into a metallic drone at the end of the track. The contrast between how this first track begins and how it ends gives an insight into how this album works as a whole.
The beautifully named “Los Angeles Without Palm Trees” starts with recordings of insect nightlife, before panning, flickering sounds arrive. This sense of movement is a satisfying stereo-field experience, with those droning synths again coming into play around the halfway point that generate quite a dramatic shift in mood. Swelling, aching tones lend this piece a feeling of grandeur, but also sadness. The track title invokes a feeling of something curiously amiss, and the audio certainly adds to that interpretation.
Title track “A Parallel Array of Horses”, is the first of the collection to throw Skeen’s processed vocals really to the fore. Long, shadowy wails combine with strings, the high pitches slowly lowering throughout the duration of the piece. This feels like a descent into some strange, dread-induced hallucinatory state: dark, enveloping and inescapable.
“Frain, Refrain” is a shorter exploration of this vocal technique, more minimal and the words nearly audible but just out of reach. It reminds me of Grouper in a way, melancholic and stripped down to a single component, only digitally processed into a single spectral voice.
The final track, “Flutter in Place”, is somewhat calmer and feels like a coming-down return to reality after the previous two. Warm, glowing drones take their time unfolding, while crackling found sounds add a light dusting of texture. These synth drones actually might be more processed vocals, but it’s harder to recognize this time. Better to just absorb them as they are, and float on their current. At the eight-minute point, suddenly a drop in pitch rouses that eerie sense of tension that had existed in preceding tracks, before that too fades out to the sounds of more chirping field recordings. As the album began with the sounds of nature, so does its final moments, and the journey between these two points has been quite a ride.