THE WHITE ISLAND
eyes cast down
Kalindi Music KM005
Oct. 1, 2017
Greg M describes this album’s genesis as an unexpected development: “From trepidation at the idea of improvising at all, these pieces emerged as my attitude toward ‘spontaneous composition’ progressed from stubborn determination to eagerness. The process hit critical mass with three releasable pieces from the summer 2015 performances, and an album of guitar improvisations suddenly became not merely plausible, but a Necessary Project.
Those three Mirage pieces and Submerge cover the meditative and serene space for the album, while the other three pieces venture into much more experimental territory. The Four Directions Seemed Aflame is an intense vehicle for fretless guitar with EBow, building up to four parts. The closer, Mystic Memory, is a 12-string exploration from Greg’s multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans and Tali Farchi in April 2012.
All pieces are live solo guitar performances, recorded in concert or in The Keep, except The Eons Are Closing, which is assembled from eight improvised clips: two each on 6-string, 12-string, fretless guitar and electric mandolin. The mandolin, severely processed and pitched down two octaves, resembles a crazed bass marimba at times.
Remembering those who have gone before, in the album notes Greg calls out soundscape guitar heroes Jeff Pearce, Dirk Serries, Steve Roach and pioneer Robert Fripp with thanks for their great inspiration.
Without words we would communicate by trading symbols. Recording as Eyes Cast Down, guitarist Greg Moorcroft produces music under this assumption. His album The White Island (73’44”) communicates to the listener, not just a substantial intellect, but also the many gray shades of mystery the human experience may touch.
The musicianship found on The White Island goes beyond that of the virtuoso, and to a different kind of playing and composing. The addition of several layers of echo, reverb, pitch shifting, long and short delay lines and other forms of digital processing results in a confluence of processes, intuition and innovation. The idea of layering the sounds of a guitar by means of a long delay is about as old as our modern concept of Ambient Music. But Moorcroft aspires to more than he inherited.
The White Island does represent his mastery of the equipment that loops, shifts, delays, flanges, filters and phases his plucked, rubbed and otherwise excited steel strings. However, his involvement with the music goes deeper than just a fascination with technology and technique. Consisting of seven slow-motion cloud rider tracks, this album might help the mind reduce the taxing task of processing nonessential information. The pindrop performances were recorded essentially in real-time, and wander from theme to theme in a free association of half-thoughts, lost memories and forgotten places.
From smooth and swirling, to tempestuous and dark, the achieved atmosphere seems to be that of sustained calm and wonder – harmonic journeys without the usual conclusion. Characterized by the reiteration of extended phrases and weighted by unpredictable shifts in timbre, The White Island eventually settles into its own unique ambient area – where the ethereal and surreal meet as a cerebral force.
That Greg Moorcroft (aka eyes cast down) cites Jeff Pearce, Dirk Serries, Steve Roach, and Robert Fripp as inspirations on his fifth album’s inner sleeve says much about the kind of material presented on The White Island. Don’t, however, interpret the statement to mean that the material’s blatantly derivative so much as that it exemplifies varying degrees of commonality with those innovators. It goes without saying that the intended listener is one with a jones for guitar-based ambient soundscaping.
All seven pieces on this latest collection by the Evanston, Illinois-based multi-instrumentalist, who’s been working in the ambient field since 2004 and released his debut album, The Separate Ones, in 2013, are live improvs recorded either in the studio or in performance, the most unusual being “The Eons Are Closing,” which Moorcroft assembled from eight improvised clips. Six-string electric guitar is the dominant instrument, though twelve-string and fretless guitars, electric mandolin, E-bow, and slide also surface.
Interspersed amongst four unrelatedly titled settings are three “Mirage” pieces, the first of which spotlights the more serene and meditative side of the eyes cast down project. In this opening piece, long wisps of hushed tones drift placidly for almost nine minutes, the effect of which induces a corresponding state of calm in the listener. The guitar’s chiming textures reverberate throughout the trio, and the sound of Moorcroft’s shimmer proves alluring (how fitting that another track is titled “Submerge”).
While the frenetic pace of the world slows dramatically in accordance with the soothing ambiance of “Mirage One,” the subsequent “The Four Directions Seemed Aflame,” executed by Moorcroft using fretless guitar with E-bow, exposes a rather darker dimension in featuring steelier timbres and, with four loops in play, the material’s also denser and slightly more haunting.
With its eight sixteen-bar improvised sections sourced from four instruments (six-string, twelve-string, fretless with E-bow, and electric mandolin), “The Eons Are Closing” is literally and figuratively the album’s centerpiece. Eerie and episodic, the sixteen-minute setting plays like an exploration into an uncharted zone where thick winds swirl alongside guttural noises suggestive of an alien life-form. As unusual as “The Eons Are Closing” is, it’s matched by “Mystic Memory” for the simple fact that its slide playing, which Moorcroft pairs with twelve-string during the fifteen-minute exercise, suggests nothing less than the mournful wail of an abandoned alley cat. Though the seven pieces on The White Island collectively constitute a unified whole, noticeable degrees of contrast are generated when these two long-form settings present arresting experimental counterparts to the comparatively serene “Mirage” improvs.
Fourth solo album by Eyes Cast Down entitled The White Island is out since October 1st, 2017, through Kalindi Music, a small label run by Greg Moorcroft, the sole protagonist behind this Chicago domiciled project. This album follows previous releases The Separate Ones (February 2013), Divinations (June 2014) and Souls Adrift, In Disrepair (July 2016). To make the discography of Eyes Cast Down complete, I have to mention also a collaborative recording Memory Palace with Chris Russell, released back in December 2014. The White Island is available as a CDr edition packaged in a 4-panel digipak designed by the artist himself and featuring his inside photographs, while the credit for the front and back cover photographs goes to Greg Moorcroft’s wife Dasi.
“Mirage One” is the opening 8 and a half minutes long piece, while another two “Mirage” parts appear later on the album. Profoundly immersing, yet calmly reverberating solitary horizons invade and fastidiously juxtapose with persistently permeating glimpses of embracing quietudes. The track title, the visuals and obviously the drone guitar-driven balmy soundscape shifts the listener into silently enveloping linear sceneries. The next composition, 9-minute “The Four Directions Seemed Aflame”, carefully merges eternally monochromatic desolate hums with insistently tiding meridians of stretched introspective, but dissonantly traversing transcendental helixes. As much poignantly evocative as it is sonorously ear-piercing, a true sonic opus!!! “Mirage Two”, which gets over 11-minute mark, quickly returns to quieter terrains, but again illuminated by titillating cascades of echoed, peculiarly vague hues.
“The Eons Are Closing”, with 16-plus minutes the longest composition on the album, dives into more contemplative realms and even if reinforced by glancing subtle lyrical-like patterns here and there, some mysteriously unfathomable depths are entered as well, yet still percolated by various distantly rumbling and intriguingly aberrant traceries. “Mirage Three” follows the serenely engulfing path, where gentle flickers continuously arise and evanesce across the tightly immersing layers. Poignant vistas of silence are resurrected as well. Beauty!!! “Submerge”, at 5:11 the shortest piece on The White Island, is firmly rooted to the halcyon resonations of its predecessor, but relentlessly pervaded by a display of high-pitched traverses. Longer “Mystic Memory” takes the listener into magnificently ambiguous subterranean realms, where calmly sinuous streams are exquisitely bridged with perpetually ascending and ominously crescendoing labyrinths. An epic grand finale awaits here!!!
Unfortunately, the unstable CDr format doesn’t justify Eyes Cast Down’s exceptional artistry in live improvising, when masterfully utilizing 6- and 12-string and fretless electric guitars, electric mandolin, EBow and slide guitar with various soundscaping techniques. Sonic monuments such as The White Island and Souls Adrift, In Disrepair certainly deserve a glass mastered CD!!! Yes, I can imagine the budget is always very tight and the nowadays’ sales most likely don’t provide enough support reflected by sales, but I still trust in much bigger potential when having a proper format on hand, more especially in a connection with such creative force exhibited by Eyes Cast Down. I will keep my fingers crossed for you, Greg, because your wizardry needs to be explored, experienced and celebrated!!! Indeed, 74-minute The White Island is a well-hidden gem!!!