Virtual Proximity - Observations EP: "Weaving layers of beats with processed field recordings and lustrous strands of loops" "Miles Davis’s late 1960s fusion albums spring to mind"
Weaving layers of beats with processed field recordings and lustrous strands of loops, Observations EP – by Melbourne’s Virtual Proximity – is a shimmering sonic fabric. I wish this was a full-length album as the listening experience through the six tracks was one of being enfolded in a comforting electro-acoustic lullaby.
In studio mode, Virtual Proximity is James Annesley – in live settings he plays electric saxophone, flute, EWI, live loops, and is joined by Tristan Courtney on bass, laptop, MPD, live loops and Robert Jarvis on live visuals. Not having the visuals that accompany the live performance of this music makes me think the live experience would be something to behold. Nevertheless, Observations EP succeeds in offering six (overly brief) time-slices of immersive and inviting music.
Outside Looking In opens with a plaintive flute melody underpinned by a train-track like rhythm. All is awash in swathes of textured and filtered distortion. There is nothing harsh about this buzzing static atmosphere, more a suggestion of the nocturnal trajectories of moths and lo-fi radio signals. Perhaps I get this impressive from the song titles. This tapestry gives way to highly reverberant sampled voices, which also feature on March of the Inevitable. Both tracks evoke a sense of melancholic beauty, and there is a natural flow between rougher and calmer waters across the terrain of the EP.
The use of the field recordings creates a sense of exterior space, and, when combined with rhythmic elements drawn from hip-hop and related electronic genres, give a distinctly urban, inner city feeling.
A saxophone melody haunts the upper reaches of Solitude of Outdoors At Night. The track features more driving beats than elsewhere on the EP, and the origin of the field recordings is harder to imagine. It’s easy to hear the influence of the jazz/electro/hip hop artists on Observation EP, with Jneiro Jarel’s similarly tempered (and tempo-ed) music springing to mind as a sounding board. It’s also hard not to think of trumpeter Jon Hassell’s ‘Third Stream’ music, which shares the textural density often apparent here. Miles Davis’s late 1960s fusion albums also spring to mind, although I appreciated the lack of ‘solos’ here, or of much overtly melodic playing, as this focused attention on the deeply textural and almost baroque detail of the material. Mentioning the shared resonances with these artists places Virtual Proximity in vaunted company.
While Observations points towards the relative temporal freedoms offered by live performance, the recorded format can nevertheless support itself with the beauty of its dappled rhythmic shading and spatial suggestion.