Boomkat Product Review:
Featuring old pals Lucy Railton on cello and Kit Downes playing the Skáholt Cathedral's massive pipe organ, 'Subaerial' sounds like a consecrated bridge to a higher realm = utterly transformative music that bends and braids the old and new together like hot iron and bronze.
Railton and Downes first met while studying in London, and have been playing together ever since. ECM alum Downes has a background in jazz, while Railton has moved from classical music into the experimental realm on her acclaimed recent run of recordings. On 'Subaerial' the duo improvise on organ and cello, capturing a sound that reimagines the familiar motifs of sacred music as complex contemporary drones and washes of eerie ecclesiastical resonance.
They picked Iceland's Skáholt Cathedral to record the album, dazzled by its warm acoustics and impressive pipe organ. Rather than compose specific pieces, they instead decided to record spontaneously, improvising together in the cathedral for three hours and then slicing out seven discrete moments for the album. Railton and Downes have been improvising together for fun since their school days, but this is the first time they'd used the process as the core for a release.
Their process lends a particular tone to the music. It's as if both musicians are receiving direction from some higher force, their performances weaving in and out of each other and the building's acoustics. In such austere and sacred surroundings, it makes sense that the music echoes Northern European tradition, but both artists succeed in elevating into more difficult places, infusing their unusual improvisations with meaning and relevance.
Railton's cello leads and as the album develops, Downes builds harmonic tones with magnificent restraint, allowing the organ to mimic the elasticity of a synthesizer. The sound they create is chilling and brave rather than "cinematic" - the two blazing a path skywards, cutting unique sonic sculptures from a space that was intended to link heaven and the earth. It's a remarkable achievement.