Hot on the heels of 2017’s excellent Body Consonance LP (in my top ten list), Byron Westbrook delivers a sparkling new tape for Umor Rex. Confluence Patterns sees Westbrook riffing on the atypical rhythms and pastoral drones that made his last record such a delight, only we get the slightly-compacted versions this time around — it’s not always the case, but seems there’s a tendency for artists to reserve their more extensive work for the CD/LP formats. It’s not that Westbrook has gone pop here, but that he’s slightly adjusted his approach to get the point across quicker. As much as contrasting dynamics have been at the forefront of Westbrook’s music to date, his deliberation of soft/sharp, loud/quiet juxtaposition is all the more pronounced on this release — see the mood shift in the transitions between “A Continuous Slip” and “Drifting Well / Perception Depth,” leading to the latter’s full-stop close.
Westbrook’s increasing use of percussion (that I can only assume is software derived) has added an alluring contrast to his work. It’s laid on thicker in the shorter tracks, but it’s his 7+ minute pieces that always shine brighter for me, where, by design, the longer time-frame forces a slow build, or at very least an added expansiveness. “Vanishing Action” is the only track that ventures into that territory here. Nary a beat is heard over its duration, the focus shifting away from individual grains of sand to the inexact meeting of sea and sky on a distant horizon. It’s a classic drone piece that calls back to pioneering eras of modular synthesis, curtailing meditative stagnancy by way of subtle artistic intent.
Umor Rex’s description of the album points to Westbrook’s interest in how contrast can shape one’s perception of sound. What is of particular interest is how one’s perception of a sound can be fundamentally changed by the sounds around it. At its simplest level, the concept basically describes the difference between “sound” and “music” (or the difference between, say, notes and chords). However, I think Westbrook is more interested in the notion’s elusive applications, like the influence of particular timbres on mood, or, in the case of Confluence Patterns, how the introduction of noise in direct contrast to “pleasant” sounds, or the use of unexpected transitions, might alter one’s listening experience. Listen to Confluence Patterns once, then again with an awareness that Westbrook might be fucking with your perception, and it’s like finding a key to the whole thing. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but I’m more intrigued with each listen.
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