Some of us simply want to leave—trade houses and rooms for ranges and forests, showers and bathtubs for lakes and streams. We want to escape the comforts of central heating to witness wild flames in the cold of night. Some of us want to roam free, to make our own paths as branches do in their search for light and space. It just so happens that the music created by guitarist Cyril Secq and sound artist Orla Wren (also referred to as Tui) has very much in common with this kind of yearning for freedom. I would go as far as naming freedom in nature as the soul of their collaboration, released as an eight-piece album that is very fittingly titled Branches. While both musicians have separate previous releases (Cyril Secq with French group Astrïd and Orla Wren with various monikers on quite a few labels), it is by the exquisite combination of their skills that Branches can be placed in the company of electroacoustic masterpieces such as Partridge & Budd’s Through the Hill and Jacaszek’s Treny. The album shines as yet another gem in the treasure chest of Dronarivm—a label from Moscow focusing on modern classical and electroacoustic sound design.
In a rough and most simplistic nutshell, Branches could be described as a meticulously produced work of fascinating sound art. It features evocative flutters of mostly melancholic acoustic guitar that are carefully poised over an extremely detailed background of processed soft, organic noises with the occasional addition of other acoustic instruments. However, the emergent properties so masterfully conjured by these elements form a vivid trail leading far deeper (or in this case, way further up the branches) than any written description is capable of mediating, opening only for the intent listener to follow.
It is no wonder Tui has been called a shaman—an ambient folk alchemist. His swarms of bio-mechanical fireflies and soft showers of static are gently released, yet hold within them enough force to make the mind bend. Seemingly random ticks, blips, and high-pitched zips form an intact, elaborate tapestry that is decorated by simple, often abstract instrumentation. A playful flute dancing upon a carpet of trickling digital crickets morphs seamlessly into a calming organ, fading into soft rustling and spirited speech. Tui keeps the attentive ear in constant awe. He manages to utterly obfuscate—and in doing so, render pointless—the line between natural and processed. Here, quality headphones really make a difference.
Tui’s superb work on sound design also creates a space into which Cyril Secq’s emotional acoustic guitar blends perfectly. From simple plucking patterns to more elaborate sweeps, at points reminiscent of Mediterranean musical styles such as Fado and Flamenco, Secq’s playing is skillfully restrained and leaves plenty of room for the listener’s imagination. The illusion of sitting around a fire, witnessing a live guitar performance while enjoying an evening in the wild, is so complete that it is hard to reconcile the fact that this collaboration has been composed and completed entirely through virtual means. The official story goes that Secq’s guitar pieces were leftovers from previous recordings that Tui then wove into his work. But there are so many stunning notches on these branches—so many moments of aural enjoyment when pure synthetic bliss emerges that it really becomes useless, or even derogatory, to focus on the whats and hows.
Rarely have I heard such a tangible union, such complementing energies between musicians even in a live setting. Such as when Secq’s guitar flows as if imitating frolicking children in long grass, and Tui decorates their surroundings in digital glitter, or after Tui breathes a thick breeze of distortion through the leaves, how Secq responds by first speeding up and then letting his notes linger. There is also a constant sense of longing, even sorrow in these compositions. They demand stillness and induce a sense of finity, but every element trickles magic, acceptance, and enthusiasm to see what lies beyond the next brook—what view the next branch will lead upon.
As the simple ordinal labeling of tracks suggests, Branches is to be ingested as a whole. Individual pieces are more like knots on the same tree than separate stories. Such a rich audio scenery combined with a relatively short running time beckons frequent listening without becoming dull or repetitive. I reckon this album will become a long-term friend in times both dark and bright, and keep inspiring through sleet and sunshine alike.
01) Première Branche
02) Deuxième Branche
03) T0roisième Branche
04) Quatrième Branche
05) Cinquième Branche
06) Sixième Branche
07) Septième Branche
08) Huitième Branche