ALBUM REVIEW: Ian William Craig & Daniel Lentz – ‘FRKWYS Vol.16: In A Word’: fragile, seductive experimenta for voice, tape and piano is



FRKWYS is a collaborative album series that seeks to bring together interesting like minds from across the decades, seeing how they spark, and delivering intriguing and beautiful results; think of it akin, perhaps, to a more contemplative In The Fishtank, that Dutch series that dropped such artists as Low and Dirty Three together, saw them find common musical ground.

The FRKWYS project has seen beautiful releases by the likes of Steve Gunn, who made guitars sing with British blues legend Mike Cooper; Katryn Aurelia Smith investigating sonics with electronica innovator Suzanne Ciani; and the bliss of Julianna Barwick in vocal cahoots with seminal Japanese drummer Ikue Mori.

In a Word, the sixteenth instalment, saw an invitation issued to composer Daniel Lentz and vocalist and sound artist Ian William Craig to explore the sonic space that might exist between them. 

Daniel has worked across postminimalism for more than four decades. He was a pioneer of live multitrack recording with the Daniel Lentz Group; he writes for ensembles from choirs to string orchestras to glass harmonicas. In common with compatriots operating from the West Coast such as Harold Budd and Ingram Marshall, his compositions investigate slow, nuanced and incremental change, stemming from well-rooted harmonic depths from which to spring into space and resonance.

Hailing from Canada, Ian William Craig is possessed of a voice of arresting classical grace and singular beauty, which he likes to employ in tandem with what he calls “precarious technologies”: that is, homemade analogue synths, altered reel-to-reel machines, faulty tape decks; the beauty of the accident, the decay, the glitch and the texture. He’s released albums such as this year’s Red Sun Through Smoke, which brings an aural fragility like a leaf skeleton, threaded with an eerie, evocative tonality.

The pair got together at a small studio in Santa Barbara and began to feel toward each other: the one with his beautiful voice and makeshift cassette decks, the other at a grand piano. 

Daniel was taken at once with what Craig brought to the collaboration: “With the first note he sang, I was hooked. The beauty of his voice and his unique analog looping setup, all compacted into a small suitcase, were both remarkable and always surprising in what they could do.”

A cautious beginning soon gave way to a free-thinking flow. Ian, usually a solo operator, began to push towards the new horizons and possibilities offered by an expanded cerebral and compositional set-up: “I tried my best to control what was going on at first, and failed spectacularly. Once I let this aspect go and began to listen to Daniel, to my surroundings, and to the engineers, something finally clicked.”

Let us begin, not strictly in the order of the album perhaps, but with the incredible and fresh composition “Poire”, which we’ve embedded for you below. The piano is distant, draws you out towards it’s flourishes; little sprinkles of notes are sheared and twisted in the beauty of mal differently functioning tape players. Ian’s voice adds a sighing dimension, a soft,  human placidity, to a tune which has the quiet wash of a calm ocean. I mean … now isn’t that lovely?

Ian William Craig and Daniel Lentz, photographed by Eli Welbourne

“Tasteful Gloss” opens in a simple piano figure that rings clear and true and warm. An occasional chromium oxide warping and undertow of doubling keeps your ears alert, but this opener is about the clarity of Daniel at the ivories. There’s a pretty slurring manipulation at the end.

“Joyce” is a more complex and wintry being. It begins in a clear, strong, falsetto, gives way to a piano which is treated in a decaying shimmer, part- Basinski, part Jan Jelinek; faltering gracefully, granular, little dit-dits of dropout space. Daniel then serenades a sound source which has moved far, far away from its source and become another thing entirely; Ian’s wordless harmonies rejoin, with a plainsong which sounds modern and futuristic and age-old all at once, exists out of time as a sensory experience. It has a stark elegance, as a medieval church; a simplicity of unfolding, almost an acknowledgement, sonically, of all the joys and privations of the life lived. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on its step, Ian’s voice shears and grinds, disappears into the granular depths of the machine.

The fragile snowfall of “Aphrodite”, which roams far in its 90 seconds of being, so brittle you couldn’t palm it, serves as an entrée for “Erebus”: ominous, thrumming, open, the whole accidental ambience and echo of a piano recorded beautifully in a room opening out at a leisurely pace, gazing at its tape-manipulated reflection, all grain and memory, in a mirror crack’d and dotted with desilvering. It’s close companion, “Up Up Stay” sees that keyed melodicism pitch forward and into the mirrorworld, woozy, hypnogogic, and bids you follow there.

“A Pair Of Pairs” may or may not act as a conceptual twin to “Poire”, but herein we’re wrapped in some subaquatic, just-stirring dream; the details of which take flight as your eyes flicker to the day, but which leaves you with a deeply thrumming emotional ghost trace; that. That in song. That echo of something you grasp as subconscious smoke. Sit alone with this at dawn light and explore.

The mood shifts for the high modern classicism of “Fragrance”, in which Ian’s voice lofts bell-clear, becomes treated with a globular swirling and popping, as Daniel marks the forward pace in chordal splendour. It veers toward a requiem, takes on the mournful tiering of Gorecki filtered through the muslin of retro analogue tech.

“Stöitzle” is lush like Art Nouveau, Ian’s voice redolent in places of Anonhni, this tremendous ringing resonance the mantle across which judicious piano tones inflect. And then we end in “Poire” once more, as below, all the closer now you’ve read down with me, ready for another play.

In A Word is quite a rarified album, yes, but also tender, rapturous, exploratory, human; it seems to successfully dowse at the confluence of the waters of ECM and Kranky. The two labels have moved ever closer together over the years, but In A Word pulls together the outlying briefs of both and, like Ian and Daniel, introduce them for a productive, evocative and touching collaborative filigree.

Ian William Craig and Daniel Lentz’s In a Word, FRKWYS Vol. 16, will be available on digital formats on November 20th; with the CD and vinyl to follow on January 29th, 2021. An accompanying documentary of the collaboration directed by Eli Welbourne will be released in tandem.
Pre-order your copy at Bandcamp.

A portion of the proceeds from this release will benefit Wolfstone Ranch, a spiritually-based, activist community dedicated to making the rural Midwest a more compassionate place for all the animals who live there.

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