Damian Valles - Skeleton Taxa
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Although his seventh release, Skeleton Taxa is Canadian experimental artist Damian Valles' first full length CD 'proper'. Having more recently been exploring ambient and drone aesthetics in a string of limited CDrs, digital releases and compilations (not to mention the first Rural Route edition which he curates) this album sees Valles retain these components, but also reprise the sound sources he established in early work 'Count(r)ies' (2009). Released on Under The Spire, the album charted the artists' migration from big city to small town in Ontario, and the resulting experiences of the quieter lifestyle. Two years later, Skeleton Taxa feels like a culmination of Valles' sonic experiments, achieving something quite special.
Taxa is the plural of 'taxon' which is defined as a group of organisms. 'Skeleton Taxa' then, in this context is a number of groups of skeletons. The amorphous skeleton is at our physical core; without the differentiating elements such as skin, hair, eye colour, facial structure that make up our unique identities. Whilst it's not made explicit, Valles could well be concerning himself with the subject of death and what lies after it, certainly it is our bones that last beyond our conscious/waking life. A potentially morbid topic, but is of course perpetually captivating by its very definition.
There is structure to these pieces that approaches 'song' patterns. Even with the wider range of instrumentation - be that piano, guitar, synthesiser, drone or recording - Valles establishes a collage effect, stitched together with an embedded unrest but consistency of style. So rich is the soundscape that its difficult to paraphrase the work by any genre, each track reveals new treasures; juxtaposition of electronic tones against piano or guitar, worn drones contrasted with clatterings of objects in a room or as in 'Bell and Arc' the voice of the artists' wife Heidi.
'Collapse Process' features a piano that sounds like it may be pinned, the reverberations from the instrument allowing extended life through effects so that the notes build into a droning back drop like vapourous ghosts. The post-mortem recording over 'Calavera' (Spanish for 'skull') has an antique air to it, a lurching menacing melody keeps a funeral bell march rhythm, Valles adds atonal violin and more and more sounds like an investigation of all parts of the body.
With a dynamic tonal and textural range Valles shows here that he is a master of his art, creating an ever shifting, ever unpredictable journey. 'Skeleton Taxa' is a beautifully rendered work defying categorisation, encapsulating the exploration of sound and challenging our notion of humanity within its duration.