Offthesky – The Serpent Phase

Offthesky - The Serpent Phase

Offthesky – The Serpent Phase

The Denver-based experimental sound artist Jason Corder (AKA Offthesky) has, over the last fifteen years, released no less than fifty albums. This presents any but the most Offthesky dedicated reviewer with something of a conundrum. Whereas any release that is separated from its predecessors by (say) eighteen months can sensibly be regarded as a stand-alone ‘event’ in the artistic life of any musician and can be easily referenced for artistic changes by backward comparison, in this case the work has to be considered as part of a ‘continuum’. In order to assess the work’s position in that process with any great accuracy would require knowledge of at least a dozen or so of the other titles. I’ve probably heard about three. So, I should apologise in advance to any Corder devotees if I betray a lack of familiarity with the twists and turns of his oeuvre as a whole.

To get my primary criticism out of the way, first, the mysteriously titled The Serpent Phase is very much the sound of a man who has made a great deal of albums. The aural paths feel measured and well-trodden and the album is somewhat missing in the promise of musical surprises. But if it is slightly lacking in the ‘eureka’ department what it does possess, in spades, is the feel of an artist who knows his turf and how best to sprint across it. In my book anything on the Hibernate Records imprint is well worth the listening time and, as ever, this trust is not betrayed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the depth of his back catalogue, Corder is quite clearly now in his mature phase as a composer and this issue clearly represents the work of a fully formed musical entity. Originally conceived of as a series of experimental piano sketches, recorded in a number of different countries utilising mobile technology, The Serpent Phase has evolved from that beginning into an electro-acoustic work of considerably atmospheric complexity. Although divided into seven pieces the album could easily be regarded as one, evolving, flowing composition with the now-here-now-gone piano parts effectively acting as a linking element. It holds together as a musical edifice and the textural nuances sprinkled throughout the work are constantly well chosen and expertly deployed.

The Serpent Phase’s overall sound might best be described as old school ambient drift (and none the worse for that). It’s a slowly revolving meditative work whose principle structural effect is somewhat reminiscent of Eno in his Music For Airports period, although I hasten to add that Corder’s creation contains considerably more warmth and mysterious shades of light and dark than Eno’s famed but, ultimately, rather antiseptic sounding effort. A closer comparison, in feel if not composition, might be afforded by Arvo Pärt as the sonic landscape, here, possesses a slightly peek-a-boo but decidedly successful relationship with a sense of the spiritual. In compositional terms the weave of processed and natural sounds suggests some kinship to the Holger Czukay of Canaxis 5 vintage and there is a glorious evocative and dark passage in “Well Worn Sting” where violin strokes and seemingly (doubtlessly synth generated) low-range brass or reeds are sewn into the mix creating a ghostly atmosphere suggestive of the more moody passages of Benjamin Britten’s great opera, Peter Grimes. Deservedly high comparisons and deservedly high praise. In fact, Offthesky as a project, is really as much about musicianship and the deployment of musical knowledge as it is about sound art and it’s this very level of experiment linked to sophistication that renders The Serpent Phase into a work worth the visit and worth a lengthy stay.

Hibernate Records