Valiska | Numbers
Trouble In Utopia (CD/CS/DL)
Good news – I have completely failed to do my homework and have no idea what I am reviewing. The folder on my computer is labelled simply ‘Valiska’, and contains 4 tracks numbered 1 through 4. The WiFi is down, so I have no more info to go on – save of course, the music itself.
The album opens with a creaky old recording of someone counting, soon joined by what sounds like a shaky rendition of some classic biblical number played upon a budget Casio keyboard. As it progresses, the first voice is joined by a second, more distant, more distorted; we are then introduced to something resembling a fire alarm, all whilst the curious organ music persists, seemingly growing less tonal as it does so. It’s a surprisingly pleasant affair – the low quality of the recorded voice suggests no small amount of nostalgia, with the organ adding something between melancholy and childishness.
It’s admirable the way Valiska prolongs his ideas, often to the point of impropriety. 5 minutes in and I am tempted to suggest he has overplayed his hand, but by minute 9 the gentle addition of more brass-like tones seems to open the composition back in upon itself, revealing a degree of structured ambience that could only come from such a tender approach to temporality. This whole thing sounds absolutely nothing like Morton Feldman, and yet, there is an undeniable Feldmanesque air to the proceedings, with repeated, subtly augmented harmonic changes appearing over time, punctuated by absence, silences filled by the leftover crackle of the now departed voice.
The second track begins in much the same way as the first – more counting, this time in Spanish (probably – I failed my GCSE in the subject so can’t be sure), and this time joined by a saxophone, or some other brassy instrument. The persistent crackle is still here, and seems tied to the instrumentation, framing them as loops drawn from deteriorating 78’s. It is a limited palette, yet an effective one, raising a sense of obfuscated emotion that permeates throughout the album. By the third track we have the addition of some neo-orchestral colouring, a far thicker sound that is offset against the recurrence of toyish, synthetic beeps in the distance.
There is something very silly about Valiska, which might sound like a criticism but certainly is not. Going in blind, I am completely sold on the album by the final track, which invokes a general-midi Steve Reich to wonderful affect. WiFi restored, I discover that I have actually heard of Valiska before, and that this album is based upon the phenomenon of ‘numbers’ transmissions (or ‘spy radio’ for those that don’t know), which makes a lot of sense on retrospect. Probably not generic-midi then. Still, a good concept can still lead to a rubbish artwork, a fate that thankfully Valiska avoids with aplomb. Numbers is a sweet, gentle album, a tender portrait of a distant past rendered by cautious and subtle composer.