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John Also Bennett - Out there in the middle of nowhere LP

John Also Bennett - Out there in the middle of nowhere LP

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Experimental musician John Also Bennett’s latest full-length emerged from a bicoastal pandemic road trip through the badlands of South Dakota. Moved by the scale and complexity of the landscape – “remnants of an ancient seafloor mixed with the ash of a volcanic eruption, eroded over millennia and now resembling the tangled folds of earth’s brain” – he sculpted a series of stark, microtonal arrangements using a 1940’s Oahu lap steel guitar, a Yamaha SY77 multi-timbral synthesizer, and field recordings. The following year, upon relocating with his wife (Kranky composer Christina Vantzou) to the cliffside village of Livaniana on the island of Crete, Bennett discovered a method of translating his minimalist lap steel phrases into live MIDI information, which he then used to trigger different waveforms to extend the resonance of the instrument. This multi-layered generative process resulted in a collection as vast and bewildering as the terrain that inspired it: Out there in the middle of nowhere.

Opening with the desolate 15-minute “Nowhere,” Bennett’s playing is both glacial and geological, attuned to “the wonder and absolute emptiness” of the Badlands as “an infinite living sculpture.” Notes stretch, shift, and drift into vistas of twilit silence. Footsteps crunch across dry soil and rocky ravines, beneath skies stretching to the horizon. The use of extreme glissandos conjures a sense of windswept plains and winding canyons, primordial and unpopulated. Even outlier “Spectral Valley” – one of the few nods towards Bennett’s work in progressive kosmische trio Forma – unfolds with patient grandeur, rich swells of electronics gleaming in long golden arcs.

Closing track “Embrosnerόs” (named for the verdant interior Cretan village where it was recorded) best embodies the album’s cinematic liminality, at the axis of barren and beatific. Gestural breaths of lap steel shimmer in sparkling air, with echoes of both the dusty West and some forgotten paradise. Bennett describes its creation as taking place “mostly during sunset hours, blanketed by waves of cicadas as sheep bells twinkled in the distance.” A micro-tuned DX7 radiates in the periphery while the guitar’s strings hang and reverberate like deepening shadows at dusk.

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