Acclaimed media artist Quayola is a visualiser who works within the confluence of sound and vision. As well as his extensive globe-trotting catalogue of solo exhibitions he has collaborated with Jamie XX, Plaid and the late, great Mira Calix, converging his imagery with their soundscapes. More recently he has paused and re-focused, taking what feels like a natural extension to his artistry by developing his first music-based project, alongside musician and technologist Seta.
The result of this intriguing new partnership is the album Transient, released digitally on May 20th through Quayola Studio. Performed originally by Quayola/Seta as a live work combining motorized pianos and video projections, the pair have taken the notion of electronic improvisational music to another level with Transient’s recorded pieces. Using software especially developed through meticulous experimentation, the compositions on the album are generated rather than evolved, emerging from a complex interaction of sound producing algorithms.
This may sound technologically mind boggling but the key here is that the music which Quayola/Seta have captured through their high-brow experimentation is vividly imaginative and refreshingly intense. The instrumentation may be recognisable, the synthesiser foundation and the untreated purity of the grand piano, the arrangements pristinely minimal and pulsing with subtle electronica but there is a some real individuality at work throughout the album.
There’s also seems to be an undertaking to blur the permanence of the post listening experience . Each piece is identified by code rather than a series of conventional titles. This could suggest shades of the classical tradition (Fugue in D Minor Part II etc) but then Quayola/Seta don’t seem set on preserving convention or exclusivity. So maybe it’s a sly dig or their subtle wit peeping through. Or maybe it’s added motivation for the listener to explore again, not to revisit a hook or a melody but to experience something new each time. Because the essence of this intriguing set of recordings is that every encounter with each track is unique, music for the moment and that moment alone.
This makes any kind of formal review difficult, possibly redundant although it’s clear that the key strength of ‘Transient’ as an album is that it will leave a personal impression. Early visitors may be drawn immediately to the elegiac drama of ‘Transient #E _ 002-01’, the eerie glide of the synth strings that hover above the gradually awakening piano patterns. Or maybe the more propulsive ‘Transient #B_022-03’, with its shift from an almost conventional ceremonial of stately bass notes to a sub-techno undercurrent, will be an attention grabber. The way the programmed tumble of piano trills find their way to an evolving melodic coda during the piece certainly reveals the astute musicality of the Quayola/Seta partnership.
The strength of the two artists’ collaboration is further reflected in the range of moods that they create without straying from their disciplined approach. ‘Transient#B_020-01’is built on an ominous tolling bass scale while the piano part works purposefully towards a Nils Frahm-like resolve of singing lines. In contrast ‘Transient#D_007-02’ is more fractious, snapping between passages of majestic procession and frantic piano skittering. It’s a piece that’s tense and restless with the power to unsettle.
Elsewhere your first impressions may get drawn by the jazz tinged angular chord progressions that shake the ambience of ‘Transient#D_004-03’ or the filmic expanse of the synth wash in ‘Transient#D_004-02’ but it’s the emotional impact of the album as a whole that is likely to emerge as the collection’s defining characteristic. The slow paced minimalism of ‘Transient#B_021-01’ proceeds with gravitas before completing on phrases of almost withering sadness. Then there’s the dynamic closing piece ‘Transient#D_002-01’ which possibly makes the deepest connection. Soothed by a light rhythmic breeze and reminiscent of the natural simplicity of Sigur Ros, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving their time spent with ‘Transient’ unmoved.
There’s no doubt that Quayola/Seta have made an album that sidesteps familiarity and blurs the boundaries around the practice of music making. It’s a collection that revels in its own transience and chooses to remain elusive but that’s what adds to its allure. Ironically ‘Transient’ is much more than a fleeting experience, it’s one that’s unlikely to be forgotten by those that listen.
You can get your digital copy of ‘Transient’ by Quayola/Seta direct from: https://quayolastudio.bandcamp.com/album/transient