The Library Of Babel – self-titled


The Library Of Babel – self-titled

The Library Of Babel are guitarist Shane Parish, bassist Frank Meadows and cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt, and their self-titled album is their first actual release on the singularly eclectic Blue Tapes label, known for its promotion of experimental musicians such as Stillsuit, Trupa Trupa and Tashi Dorji and for its challenging and often dissonant improvised and electronic music that isn’t performed or recorded for significantly large audiences. The Library Of Babel’s album is a little different though. Retaining the improvisational approach and also bringing a defined structure to the compositions, either accidentally or deliberately, The Library Of Babel have recorded an album of some very cool, minimalistic yet highly atmospheric chill-zone sounds, an album that consistently reveals new layers of ability from its performers, both as a group and individually.

Throughout the eight tracks of the eponymous release, the three musicians draw an impressive range of sounds from their instruments; with the surface noise of the instruments themselves being an integral part of the overall tonality of the music. This is most apparent when the trio go off into less conventional improvisations, but the opening “Blind Corners In Wild Dawn” is also perhaps the most accessible of the gathered tracks, a purposed musical conversation between the guitar, double-bass and cello, simultaneously laid back and nervily energetic, and played with no small amount of skill. “Branching” takes an oriental influence in its timing and musical structure, with Meadows’s bass providing a repetitive counterpoint to the mixture of sonics that Parish and Hunnicutt draw from their instruments, tapping and buzzing alternating with actual musical notes. “Cracked Mud” is very much based around Parish’s guitar playing, a bluegrass riff twisted beyond its limits while the other two musicians retain a focused backdrop until at around the halfway point the bass takes over, and the track takes on a less frantic and more defined form.

Of course, a lot of what makes music like this succeed is the complete effect of the combined efforts of those playing it, a combination of the depth of the well-engineered recordings added to the mood that the music conveys, where the unrehearsed buzzing of guitar strings and the scraping of a bow on the cello are as integral to the finalised studio capture as any notes played. A lot of what makes this album so listenable is the timbre of Meadow’s double-bass, adding as it does a solidity to the rattles and crashes of Parish’s guitar and the verging-on synthesised noises that Emmalee Hunnicutt gets from her cello.

Albums like that of The Library Of Babel always involve an element of risk-taking by those performing them, and making and maintaining a balance between creating an environmental soundscape and actually playing something that is recognisably musical isn’t always easily achieved. The Library Of Babel appear to have made that connection though, giving us a collection that will unsettle some that hear it, but that retains its musicality and consistent listenable throughout its eight-track exercise in testing the limits of acoustic instrumentation.

Blue Tapes