When I heard The Sight Below’s harrowing cover of Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades” featuring the vocals of Jesy Fortino (Tiny Vipers), I immediately started dreaming of a more substantial collaboration between the two. While a rumored collaboration between the two and Benoît Pioulard has yet to surface (perhaps that material is what ended up as the somewhat similar, upcoming Pioulard/Rafael Anton Irisarri collaborative album recorded under the Orcas name), news of the Mirroring project which pairs Fortino with Grouper’s Liz Harris was at least if not more exciting. The swell of great ambient music over the last decade eventually put artists in a position of needing to invigorate the form, resulting in vocal turns on albums by big names like Eluvium and Loscil. Fortino’s slippery voice slides in with the surrounding textures and movements of ambient music like butter, and in Mirrorring’s first album Foreign Body, she imbues Harris’s cold waifishness with more complimentary dynamics than Eluvium’s catatonic mumbling or Dan Bejar’s self-reflexive psychobabble.
Foreign Body mostly finds Fortino moonlighting in Harris’s atmosphere. Aside from the second track “Silent From Above” – which sounds more or less like a striking Tiny Vipers acoustic guitar led track with some hazy background work from Harris – this is moody, drifting music. Those hoping the coupling would return Harris to the more structured “pop” mode of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill will have those hopes dashed. Lead track “Fell Sound” establishes the swelling, repetitious Grouper vibe which dominates the album with the chill of echo and the desolation of whispers. Harris has always centered her sonic activity around a disembodied form of alienation, floating and loosely tethered, removing the source and leaving it’s resonance. When Fortino adds a lilting guitar line, it not only provides counterpoint, but also provides a thematic depth that Harris doesn’t create on her own in Grouper. If Harris conjures an incorporeal surreality, then like the person on the shoreline whose visage is rippled by the waves Fortino reminds the listener of the inescapable and long-suffering body which is only implied by the existence of mind in most atmospheric, head music.
This space created between the two players seems to really pick up in the middle of the album as “Cliffs” is the first track that sounds definitively like Mirrorring and not like Grouper or Tiny Vipers, and finds the two musicians on equal footing. A nice balance is struck between a simple picked acoustic guitar part and a delicate fog created by drones and Harris’s voice before some effects decenter the whole proceedings, then lead to a brighter renewal of the melody featuring a more urgent drone and Fortino’s vocals, before again unraveling into soft detritus. “Mine” also shares duties equitably, building the recurring motifs into a climax featuring Fortino’s most alien, androgynous vocal on the album, and also the most affecting. Harris also provides her most fluid guitar work here, almost like lead, and the song plays out in a twinkling cacophony.
This is a case of two disparate-sounding artists pooling talent to make something even more engaging. As Harris surrenders to the cold withdrawal of unintelligibility, Fortino pulls things back into focus with the warmth of acoustics and the discretion of language. Hopefully the two will record together again. As they become more familiar with each other, hopefully they will be able to jettison the material which sounds more like Grouper or more like Tiny Vipers – which is still admittedly compelling enough material in it’s own right – and just make Mirrorring music. All in all, Foreign Body is a very rewarding and promising collaboration for fans of the more emotive side of droning ambient music.