Often a theremin, one of the earliest electronic instruments, is thrown into a piece only to add a little spaced-out quivering fun. Like Tommy Hall’s jug, its goal is often to add a little dash of tongue-in-cheek amusement without doing any harm. Sometimes, it can border on the ridiculous, while other times it can be taken a bit too far (i.e. The Lothars). On Obscurer’s Shining Arbors (released by Buffalo-based label House of Alchemy), however, the theremin serves as the foundational layer to an ambient turned psychedelic dreamscape.
Through the piece’s 35 or so minutes, 2 theremins and guitar (and eventually a keyboard and other various electronica) wander through a wobbling sonic ocean. Two points must be made here. First, the theremins are not always the ones doing the wobbling. Indeed, their pitch often oscillates, but this oscillation is done in a controlled, direct manner. Other instruments often oscillate pitch just as much–in other words, this ain’t Obscurer’s first (theremin) rodeo. Second, this piece is indeed an ocean. There is no steady build up to a some kind of white noise wash out, but rather a rolling landscape in which quiet and disquiet take turns. No wave of noise is the same, and no quiet consoles (if it consoles at all) the same way either. The result is pleasantly unpredictable, especially towards the final minutes of the piece when, expecting a final burst of madness, we are enveloped in a comforting blanket of noise. Oh yeah, the source of that comfort are two theremins. Yes, Obscurer has proven that a theremins can lull, and lull well.
Throughout, Obscurer executes swimmingly. Little is missing, and nothing seems unnecessary or out of place. Ultimately, their strength lies in their balance. The balance between haunting and calming, between focus and freedom, between experimentation and holding true to a seemingly tight vision. Yet the greatest achievement of this piece is perhaps its ability to be at once emotionally demanding, almost exhausting, as well as retaining a lightness in that classical ambient sense of being just as well suited for background or foreground. I have no idea if this piece has been gestating for a long time or whether it was a one-off free-form recording. Regardless, it certainly hits the mark and has turned this critic into an adoring fan, theremins and all.
Review by Fjordan Turlingua