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  Distant Intervals
  Issei Herr
  Northern Spy Records  
Release Date:
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The cello had its day. Back in the early 2000s every band that flirted with post-rock had to have a cello in it. The cello's range allowed it to fill a variety of roles in a band. However, it's been a few years since that heyday, and you rarely hear cellos anymore.

Which is why this album surprised me so much. Issei Herr is a classical trained cellist from Brooklyn who has spent some time experimenting with the instrument and stretching it into strange new ambient worlds with the help of electronics. I suppose that in the post-rock era cello was added as an accent on records, but here it is the centerpiece, taken and manipulated into new sounds and textures.

This is a record of layers of odd sounds wrapped around Herr's playing, at times mournful, at other joyous. This album sits at the junction of modern classical music and ambient music, and it does proud by both of those two things.

The album starts off with Prelude (An Eternity of Light), a bit of mellow classicalness to set the tone. The cello here is sawing away, slow and mournful. The track flows into Aubade (The Farewell Is a Beginning) where Herr uses one slow droning cello layer over one fast layer, the fast layer being almost a sort of percussion.

Samples start appearing in Aria (I Stand by the Reflecting Pool and Remember). A cello saws away, while strange cooing noises echo.

In Elegy (As Soft Night Marches In) there is a sound like rope stretching, a clacking noise, and slow cello. The rope stretching sound always reminds me of Orbital, who used that sound on The Box, and the clacking noise makes a nice rhythm behind the cello. Some kind of bass sound lurks in the background of Toccata (Kisses of Earth) as the rope sound lingers and the cello saws mightily.

That sort of "orchestra warming up" sound dominates the cello on Interlude (Sunken Citadels). But the next track, Serenata (To a Hidden Moon) features plucked cello and some nice sawing layers, over the sounds of waves. This is a pretty one, with lots of layers of cello moving about.

Fugato (Night’s Transfiguration) feels sparse, one cello line keeping a rhythm, with other layers floating above it.

Herr brings in a collaborator for the final track, Aveu (The Beginning Is a Farewell) feat. Maria BC. Maria BC is, apparently, another person who walks the line between classical and ambient, only BC is more of a vocalist. The wordless vocals are a nice subtle layer, working well with the cello to add a little depth to the song.

On the whole the album flows together well. There is no mistaking that this is a classical release, but there are enough other things going on the keep it interesting and fresh.

One note: this review lingered, partly finished, on my hard drive for months. I often feel like classical music is difficult to review because I am not as familiar with it. But then i got another promo of cello music modernized, the debut by Alice Does Computer Music. Listening to that record helped put this album into perspective. Please note that i am unaware of any connection between the two artists other than instrument they are trained on. However, it might make sense for you to read that review as well.

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