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An electro-acoustic journey into the unknown.

Music Review: Neu Gestalt – Weightless Hours

There is a remarkable beauty in the music of Les Scott, aka Neu Gestalt, over the course of his extraordinary new release Weightless Hours. Three years have passed since the debut of Neu Gestalt, the nearly pure electronica of Altered Carbon. With Weightless Hours, Les Scott has created an album of almost indescribable beauty. His use of field recordings, such as that of the rain and other elements, in conjunction with more traditional instrumentation, puts Weightless Hours squarely in the realm of what is generally referred to as “electro-acoustic” music. It is a recording with a haunting ambiance that I find myself returning to over and over again.

Weightless Hours begins with the sound of water flowing downstream, interspersed with various sounds that eventually resolve themselves into a wonderfully poignant piano. The title of this opening track, “Toxicology” is unusual to me, as the sheer, pristine quality of it brings to mind just about anything but something ugly and toxic. One of the greatest elements of instrumental music is that it really is in the eye of the beholder, and frankly, whatever Les Scott chooses to title his compositions is in a lot of ways irrelevant to me as a listener. I hear what I hear, and the tones evoke moods and emotions in me that may have very little in common with the composer’s intent.

As the above paragraph shows, the music of Weightless Hours is in many ways very difficult to describe. The simple reason being that mere words are not really sufficient to explain the various feelings that this recording evokes in the listener. The good folks at Alex Tronic Records were kind enough to send me a copy of Weightless Hours a month ago, and I have listened to it dozens of times already. And I still find something new in it every time I play it.

As the press release mentions, “There is a singular obsession with detail and surface [in Weightless Hours].” This is absolutely true. The 12 tracks run for just about one hour, and rather than a “mere” collection of songs, they serve to tell a story. It is as if they are chapters in a book, each moving the basic plot forward, but all in service of the overall tale.

Certain tracks do stand out however, for various reasons. For example, the low-key, yet thoroughly engaging melody of “Cold Wave” is underscored with a perfectly-pitched sense of rhythm in the drums. This is a motif that is repeated often throughout the course of the disc, especially during “Saturn Park” and “On Haunted Shores.”

To these ears Weightless Hours first slips into the fascinating world of electro-acoustic music during “Winter.” The various elements that Les Scott brings into play are so perfectly meshed, it is hard to know where the “electro” gives way to the “acoustic.” Actually, the term “electro-acoustic” is a relatively new one, and is used to describe many different forms of sound. My litmus test is simplistic at best, coming down to that old saw, “I know it when I hear it.”

The mix of field recordings with both electronic and acoustic instruments could be reduced to a formula I suppose. But that is never the case here. “Sub Rosa” is yet another example of what Neu Gestalt does so well. It has the feel almost of an overture, yet concludes with a sort of a synthesizer-wash “cleansing ritual.”

“Aerial Eleven” contains the most foreboding of all intros, then relaxes into the beautifully spaced notes of Les Scott’s keyboards. The musical palette is soon enlarged with some of the most prominent effects on the album. Somehow the mood of mystery is maintained throughout the track, no matter which direction it turns. For some reason I am reminded of Ultramarine’s classic Every Man and Woman is a Star. Not in any overt way mind you, just in the emotional frame of mind it puts me in.

“Metaline” carries on in this manner most effectively, managing to evoke both the pastoral and the chaos of infinity somehow equally. With “Sheltering Skies,” the beauty remains, but like the earlier “Cold Wave,” an underlying beat is present as well. Earlier I mentioned Ultramarine, which was a reference intended for those who are familiar with some of the finest electronic music of the past 20 years or so. During “Sheltering Skies” I would like to mention another long-time favorite, again more for the sake of being a “signpost” rather than a direct “pinch.” This would be the unforgettable Fire and Water from 777.

Weightless Hours concludes with “We Who Walk Through Walls.” The haunting quality of the album as a whole is summed up in this title, again with a perfect sense of both irony and truth. It is as if the music of Neu Gestalt is an apparition, and a transcendent one at that.

I looked up the English translation of “Neu Gestalt,” and discovered that it roughly means “New Shapes.” Although the music is very different, I could not help but to think of Einsturzende Neubauten, which in English means “collapsing new buildings.”

Certainly Neubauten’s debut Kollaps did sound like the destruction of what came before. In contrast, Weightless Hours is the sound of new growth. It is as if the apocalypse has already occurred, and we hear the “sound” of flowers blooming out of the rubble. No matter what terms are applied to describe Weightless Hours, there is one aspect to it that overrides everything. That would be the positive energy surrounding the entire affair. There is no ugliness to be found here.

Weightless Hours is not the sound of what should be done to make for a better tomorrow. It is the sound of that better tomorrow, or at least the beginnings of it. Besides being such an admittedly “abstract” discussion of the album, I cannot help myself in indulging in a philosophical soliloquy about it as well. This, in essence, is the power of the 12 songs that make up the record. It is the result of listening to an extraordinarily moving hour of music. In the end, Les Scott has given us song titles, and even descriptions in the booklet of his inspirations for the various tracks. I have intentionally chosen to ignore as much of this as possible however, for what Weightless Hours means to me ultimately is what I wish it to mean.

For an album to allow one to take the listening experience that far is an amazing achievement, and Weightless Hours is well worth seeking out.

About Greg Barbrick

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