Forming, ‘Variations of the One Essence’

Posted by on May 17, 2013


Worn Habit, 2/10/2013

Repetition has the power to reveal new meaning in simple and elegant ways, be it in visual art, in poetry, on the stage, or in music. Obviously, this is no secret to anyone who appreciates those things, but it’s always refreshing to see repetition used elegantly and to good effect. Mike Pouw (Knit Prism, Basked Unit, also proprietor of Worn Habit) was inspired by the various sounds and techniques he sought out to sooth his newborn during sleep. With this in mind, he reassembled and re-imagined music from thrift store vinyl and tapes in order to craft his own personal relaxing soundtrack. In doing so, he made a powerful case for both the simplicity and elegance of expertly looped sounds.

Variations of the One Essence consists of five tracks, all composed of a series of different loops. Each piece brings in sound elements that seem familiar enough at first listen, but take on more mysterious qualities as they repeat for the simple fact that you can discern the nuts and bolts of the music, but the finer points remain just out of reach. The opening track “Eye Appeal – Valid Days” is a good marker of this phenomenon; over the course of about eight-and-a-half minutes, the song cycles through several sounds that seem like things you’ve heard before but that can’t quite be contextualized. Similarly, the second track “Hill” gives the impression of hearing gentle music as if filtered through from another room. Its throbbing, heavy bass tones certainly have an air of oddity to them, though they are never quite “out-there” enough to be unsettling. In fact, it’s hard not to find a deep-seated, calming beauty even when the sounds are at their strangest.

One of the more intriguing tracks on the album is “Resident Of,” which carries over the repeating deep bass tones of “Hill,” but also loops in what sounds like Pan flute. In an odd way it sounds like a de-constructed bit of new age music, like one of those “Natural Sounds” tapes you find in faux-rustic gift shops, but minus their inherent hokeyness. Regardless of where the elements in “Resident Of” originated, in looped form the listener has to focus on a single riff out of context, inspiring introspection in a way that was probably difficult to achieve first time around.

The best song on the album – or at least my favorite – is the sunny, upbeat “Perfect Stride.” Consisting of swirling strings, a simple organ riff, and quick taps of heavy bass, it has a distinctly retro sound almost like the theme for a ’70s TV show. However, the repetitive nature of the track makes it seem simultaneously modern, as the cadence of the loops places it in a realm somewhere alongside hip hop beat making. In contrast, the closer “Chances Wander” might come closest to the soothing, sleepy inspirations for this project. A light motif of unidentifiable origin gently repeats as the background quietly rumbles up to meet it, providing a darker counterpoint. It comes close to being a lullaby, but the odd sense of foreboding that creeps in makes it surprisingly complex.

One incredible thing I noticed about this tape is how it reveals itself in different ways depending on how and where you listen to it. It’s so subtle that it conforms to your own situation and grows and changes when you take it with you. With this adaptable quality, Variations of the One Essence could be the perfect soundtrack to relaxation and introspection, finding new meaning wherever you happen to find yourself.