Many things about Subaerial seem impossible. Across seven spontaneous duets, Lucy Railton and Kit Downes conjure enthralling sonic spells using cello, organ, and empty space. Recorded at Skálholt Cathedral in southern Iceland, the duo travel across expansive landscapes, using various forms of drone, free improvisation, and modern classical music as touchstones before obliterating any notions of categorization. Subaerial is a mesmerizing exploration of divine sound worlds.
Railton and Downes have a deep understanding that acts as connective tissue throughout Subaerial. Opener “Down to the Plains” opens in microtonal interactions reminiscing about the purple and yellow light at dawn, and the finality imbued in those pollution hues. Downes searching organ notes flit between tense and cathartic with Railton alternating the groaning textural bowed drones and soft, creeping plucks. Every fiber of “Down to the Plains” is looking ahead while pretending not to know what horrors lurk behind. Moments of hopeful clarity emanate from the modulating echoes of Railton’s cello while the organ laments in pensive, hollow tones.
Subaerial thrives in its aural depth. “Torch Duet” dances strangely with no rhythm, high-pitched tones a warning that nothing good lies ahead. The cathedral’s natural resonance holds Railton’s cello laments in air, like a specter distilled in glass waiting for release to haunt these confines again. Methodical drone building and subliminal interactions from both Railton and Downes culminate in the gothic aural squall that is like a massive release of pressure shooting fire into the celestial dome. There’s no room to breathe, the duo screeching and slipping through lightspeed corridors before falling into the black.
Railton and Downes know how to not just bring out the best in each other’s playing, but also open up new zones for exploration. Following the sprawling “Torch Duet,” a short and sweet taste of whimsy beguiles on “Partitions” before the duo drops the curtain on the magnetic, haunting recollections floating through “Of Living and Dying.” Silhouetted against a greyscale backdrop, Downes’ meditative organ chords stand softly as Railton’s cello casts emotional loops in the sky. The quiet wonder at the end of all things stings. Subaerial disintegrates into the ether, and we stand in the silence doubting our memories and questioning whether our destructive nature can hesitate long enough to reverse the fall.
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