Zachary Paul | A Meditation on Discord
Los Angeles-based violinist Zachary Paul is a modern addition to the line of minimalist composers such as Tony Conrad and Pauline Oliveros, whose work encapsulates the transcendent nature of sustained tones. His new album on the Touch label contains two live recordings and one original film score. The pair of live pieces here capture the artist’s expressive range perfectly, showcasing how just a single instrument put through a chain of effects can create something otherworldly and sublime. The first of the live sets is entitled “Premonition” and was recorded at the Desert Daze festival in the middle of a warm afternoon. Paul’s improvised, exploratory approach to his violin coaxes an ever-so dramatic drone, upon layers of which more tones are added and subtracted into a slow-shimmering heat haze of music. Resonant frequencies paint a picture of how that afternoon must have been like, sending the audience, and now the home listener, into a hypnotic reverie.
“Slow Ascent”, the second live recording, was captured at a Touch event in LA. The sound this time is less resonant than the preceding piece, warmer and lower in tone. Slow ebbing loops reverberate before other more discordant tones appear. So far, this is the first real evidence of discordance to my ears, as per the album title’s suggestion. But perhaps Paul’s gift is his weaving of these microscopic discordances so delicately into his improvisations. The long durations of his sustained drones are mind-altering, playing tricks on the listener’s sense of time and perception. On both of the live pieces, Paul seems to be instinctively reacting to his immediate surroundings, creating improvised sounds in response to the moment. There’s an emotional honesty here that is integral to his playing.
The final track is a composed piece, made for a short film. “A Person with Feelings” differs from the live recordings immediately as there is a sense of calm, like deep breathing before meditation. Smooth edges and vapour trail-long bows create a lush soundscape with only the slightest of discordant tones in the mix. This is until the mid-way mark, at which point everything collapses and breaks apart into jagged shards, and the effects processing really barges to the fore. Apparently the film that the music was composed for is an abstract piece that follows an actor’s internal journey, in which case I feel sorry for the character as this part of the track signals some serious psychosis!
This album clearly shows Zachary Paul as an important new member of the Touch roster. He’s an improviser whose sensitivity to both his chosen instrument and his immediate surroundings combine to deliver music that is transportive and transcendent.