String Songs is an exploration of two stringed instruments built by Ashley Bellouin and Ben Bracken. As they describe them, they’re roughly five feet long and each has 35 strings. Envisioning the instruments alone takes on a life of its own as I start imagining a vibrant, fantastical universe where instruments like these are the norm. Thankfully, as I immerse myself in String Songs, Bellouin and Bracken create boundless worlds to lose yourself within.
Sequencing is important on String Songs as each piece builds on the previous until the highest peaks are traversed on sprawling closer “Strung Strings.” Layers of metallic drones move like an infinity clock, never stopping and never looking back. Dissonance creeps in, but only enough to keep you from falling too deep into a cosmic black hole. This music is so rich in texture that it seems tangible. You want to reach out and touch it even if there’s a chance you’ll get burned. Once the piece slows to a crawl accentuated with echoing cymbals and a methodic, minimal rhythm, there is release. It’s a striking counterpoint to “Strummed Strings” which finds melodic plucks blanketed by tanpura-like resonance and synthesizer. It gets into heady Terry Riley zones with a heavier sonic edge. It’s absolutely intoxicating and full of life; each repeated pattern and harmonic splash a new sun shining in deep blue skies.
Journeys are so often more interesting than endings and String Songs takes this to heart. Each second traveled is another reason not to look back. Bellouin and Bracken use their instruments with such care and precision that, as I close my eyes and let the soundscapes envelope me, I feel taken care of. Deep listening reveals new pathways and, like in the closing minutes of “Sung Strings,” as those channels blossom the world ahead is certain. String Songs is a beautiful, impeccably crafted album.