First thing’s first: this is a very pretty record. Unfinished Pieces comprises four electroacoustic improvisations that exist on the more sedate, ambient side of that spectrum, but we’re not dealing with inert tones and loooong, periodic silences here. Melbourne’s Robert McDougall uses an electric guitar and a piano, and while there’s a hint of these tangible elements present on each of these tracks, heavily treated semblances are at the forefront. On ‘Platter Study #2’ a percussive but muted series of morse codes taps dominate. They could be emanations from either instrument. Who knows. It doesn’t matter.
That’s probably what shields this type of music from a lot of potential listeners; the prospect of form and design taking precedence over a direct avenue to the ears, or the heart. An avenue it needn’t have, of course! But just to reinforce – this is a very pretty record. It’s austere sometimes, but it’s not aggressively Experimental, and whether there’s a goal here outside of sound for its own sake, it’s only betrayed by some of the song titles. One piece, titled ‘Angklung (after Anne Boyd)’, references both a little-known Indonesian bamboo tube instrument, and the Australian composer who based a composition for piano around it.
Boyd is known for her affinity with the meditative, and McDougall shares that with her. Despite the aforementioned presence of McDougall’s instruments in their rawest form, an otherworldly variation on those textures prevails. Field recordings (or what sounds like them) act as a foundation for each of these tracks, thus buoying the manipulated tones into the realm of strangeness.
There are times when that doesn’t happen. The recognisable guitar notes that sprout from the otherwise ominous mesh of ‘Untitled #4’ sound too vividly ‘mixed in’, as if McDougall is just playing along. But for the most part the sense of traversing a hall of mirrors, of reveling in a euphoric lack of clarity, marks proceedings. In its best moments Unfinished Studies sounds like mining blank and familiar sounds – like the guitar, like the piano – and happening upon a renewed sense of magic. And that’s an endeavour that will hopefully forever remain unfinished.
Label: Angklung Editions
Release date: October 2012