Benoit Pioulard – Slow Spark, Soft Spoke (Dauw, 2017)

Slow Spark Soft Spoke

I was walking in the forest a couple of weekends ago, on a very fine Autumn day. It was the last leg of the walk back to the car and the Sun was behind me, low and heavy with the day’s weight. Bronze rays just about made it over the treetops of the clearing and all about me was a rain of leaves in a soft breeze, a fluttering golden cascade at the peak of the season’s shedding. It was filmically beautiful, an endless precipitation of oak and chestnut and birch streamers that seemed to go on for an implausibly long time, the mind boggling at the sheer quantity that the canopy must hold at its peak.

These elegiac scenes reappear every year, soft and unspoken moments unravelling in graceful reverie with or without human eyes to behold them, and each year it’s so odd to consider the lifeblood of the trees falling uselessly to the ground as “beautiful”. The juxtaposition of rich earthy hues in golden light, and the increasingly barren trees as the weather greys, is the cornerstone of this EP’s sound, each piece bathed in soft tape loops and frail drone textures that hover uncertainly at the vergence of feeling and seasonality.

Whilst each of the 4 pieces here don’t stray too far from the same sonic cloth, the first two pieces can be said to define most of the EP’s character. Opening “Compound, Echo” is the more pained of the two, emerging in slow circular motions as humming loops flicker and buzz, thin shavings of theremin-esque crooning raking themselves across the surface of the static. There’s a perturbational force present, like leaves tumbling unnaturally through the still air, dislodged from their homely branches.

Secondary “Never, Just As You Wanted” has a more cinematic quality to its languid 9 minute span, romantic and radiant guitar drone unspooling in slow motion. It has a timeless feeling, an aged richness in its careful multiplicity of blanketing textures like the strata of soil and loam and fallen foliage that clog the forest floor: a solemn graveyard of Summer past, and yet a source of nutrition and sustenance crucial for life to come.

Closing title piece “Slow Spark, Soft Spoke” has a similarly magical aura about it, with elongate rushes of hovering drone smears slowly become overtaken by indistinct rustling, like limbs moving concertedly underneath a thick duffel coat, or boots trampling through frost-laced woodland detritus. It’s dreamlike, all sense of the world about it zoned out, focused solely on its own actions and its passage through this changing realm.

This is an extremely palatable 30 minute listen, a flirtatious pink cloud of sweetly wistful music that hangs lovingly and nostalgically in the mid-distance. Perfect for short walks or windowsill daydreaming this time of year.