Other albums by Black Swan
In 8 Movements
The enigma that is Black Swan has emerged from the shadows to deliver it's second work. Awash with chilling ambience, found sounds and haunting samples, The Quiet Divide reins in the phantasmagoria, examining the blurred in-between, the darkness that lies at the divide. Creeping ever so slowly out of the confined spaces of it's previous work, In 8 Movements, Black Swan moves further into the crevice, mining territory unbefitting to most composers. Upon surfacing from the muck and grime, the resulting work is disquieting and poignant, exposing the listener to the inner workings of the desolate in hope that they will never have to plunge themselves into it.
Release date: May 17 2011
12inch vinyl LP only limited to 500 copies worlwide.
100 copies on red vinyl.
Self released CDr and Cassette editions available via swanplague.com
Side A: (20:40)
The Quiet Divide
Bleeding Hearts Alliance [Phase 1]
Bleeding Hearts Alliance [Phase 2]
Side B (19:28)
Bleeding Hearts Alliance [Phase 3]
The Quiet Divide [Reprise]
The tale of Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" is essentially one of dual and mistaken identity: the virginal and innocent Odette is turned into a White Swan and Odile, the passionate and conniving Black Swan representing her dark side, fools the prince Siegfried to seal the curse. The growing saga of Experimedia's Black Swan is also one of dual and mistaken identity. For example, such is the layer of anonymity behind the project that many media sources inadvertently reviewed the debut album alongside Clint Mansel's official soundtrack of Darren Aronofsky's film.
Black Swan is perhaps the darkside of Experimedia's roster too. Recent releases have varied from the guitar driven post rock of Charles-Eric Charrier, the immersive ambient poetry of Machinefabriek's Piiptsjilling collaboration and the modern folk-classical hybrids of Lüüp and Aaron Martin. But there is nothing like Black Swan. All the music of the other artists seems to sound pure, pastoral and to emit an inner light, made all the more resplendent by Taylor Dupree's crystalline mastering, whereas Black Swan's music shrouds itself in godless shadows and doom.
But "The Quiet Divide" is also a dopplegänger of the recent debut "In 8 Movements". Their respective covers would also seem to suggest this, with the debut's obscure equine-like forms straddling the perimeter, reflecting the music's slow strangulation, whereas "The Quiet Divide" begins in the middle and extends outwards from within. And like the first, it too forms a whole, with the climax cycling back onto the opening sequence which is dramatic and Wagnerish, which means also a hint of the slowed down world of Gas.
Clues to unravelling the differences between the two albums are also in the title. Here, the protagonist is the divide, is the space between "tracks", that fizzing vacuum brimming with texture and infinitely different shades of colour on the hiss, brown and purple noise in particular, to give it almost a sense of comfort in the stark warmth of the lower frequencies. But it is noticeable that the different scenes that play put in the music, the choral sequences, the distant radio song, the edgy voices and machine noises, all seem to penetrate and disturb the serene void rather than the other way. "In 8 movements" was, by contrast, more linear and ritualistic, moving inexorably toward this void via a tunnel of ever accumulating darkness.
For this reason, "The Quiet Divide" must be the White Swan to the Black Swan of "In 8 Movements". Indeed, there are passages here that are almost uplifting, such as the richer runs riddled with vocals towards the end of the first side and the swooping, almost Oxygene-esque chords that open the way for the climax.
Taken alone, "The Quiet Divide" would easily gain the same accolades as the debut, but having arrived second its true power lies in its mirrored coupling with "In 8 movements" and their ability to shine different shades of darkness on each other.
Trailing last years deeply impressive debut, the enigmatic Black Swan presents another arresting drone movement, or "a symphony of misery and sorrow" for USA's Experimedia outlet. 'The Quiet Divide' condenses intimately precious space/time over two sides of uniquely textured ambient drone, recalling the works of The Caretaker, Philip Jeck or Svarte Greiner to a large degree, yet with a misanthropy and mid-winter bleakness unique to its formless silhouette. Both sides sigh heavy with richly orchestrated strings from undisclosed sources, embedded in a cloud of tempered tape distortion yet still surprisingly plangent, like distant fog lights piercing the murk. But divert your ears from the discernible lights and you'll find far more unsettling apparitions occurring in the undergrowth as the tape drones seem to knot and build up at certain points, creating ghostly pockets of low-end vibration which seem to dissipate as soon as they're noticed. Deeper along the path you'll encounter lost chorales stranded in the mist, and an unkindness of ravens shrouded by more explicitly doom-laden tones seeming to rise to rise from a decaying deciduous undergrowth breathing something subtly noxious and affecting.
In the Bandcamp.com era, it isn't all that surprising or difficult for an artist to maintain anonymity. Any kind of trend is prone to an equal and opposite counter-trend, and it is a largely accepted claim that the internet and the various social networks have done swift damage to our concept of privacy. This way the occasional animated hip-hop duo or band of unnamed composers really ought not be front page news. Even more, undisguised artists — those who still tender their given names and their undoctored photographs to every website that will post them — offer us carefully honed personae and focus-group makeovers. Their off-stage personalities are, by definition, not what we are looking to buy.
So taking a pseudonym seems the most forthright way around the — shall we call it? — quiet divide.
Yet during fall and winter of 2010, it was impossible not to confuse the Black Swan moniker with a successful film of exactly the same name, or the debut album with Clint Mansell's Black Swan soundtrack. At least momentarily. (For some of us it was not just momentary.) The commercial impact was probably nonexistent: "drones for bleeding hearts" seems like a fairly limited niche. Some music news outlets pitched in by reviewing both albums, but frankly, if you're born with attentiveness issues, that only added to the confusion. Being eclipsed by an award-winning film with a widely-discussed lesbian scene? A fitting start for a project that takes its name from the classic tale of mistaken identity. So one can only wonder if the follow up album, named The Quiet Divide, seeks to comment on this coincidence: that, for a few short months of 2010, the lake of tears was populated with two black swans, both accompanied by her own soundtrack, and both scores remarkable. After all, the composers may be anonymous, but it is likely that they still keep up with their own press.
We last heard from them in July 2010. The debut Black Swan (In 8 Movements) was acclaimed by the experimental music press, but received little mention in print or among the marquee music sites. Writing for Fluid Radio, Josh Atkin declared the album a "moody universe," concluding that it was "a striking debut that is meticulous in its attention to sound creation." In 8 Movements was an opulent piece of instrumental composition: a lush synthesizer gloss with controlled string work, choking tension, and some moments of true darkness. In a season that delivered some terrific ambient releases and promised others (say, The North Bend and Acoustic Tales respectively), Black Swan (In 8 Movements) held its own. No question.
Like the first, the title of this album is literal. There are large expanses of relative hush, and for those listening on vinyl or cassette, there is a very clean distinction between sides A and B. The title track opens the piece, revisiting — but by no means borrowing from — the yawning electronic sprawl and unapologetic background noise of the debut. It is difficult to choose favorites between the two prologues: In 8 Movements begins as majestic, even pretty-for-its-own-sake. But from its opening measures, The Quiet Divide makes no secret of its darker, more sinister intentions. Like the former, The Quiet Divide moves gradually, not in separate and distinct tracks. Changes occur with little fanfare, but they accumulate. This way the opening track is markedly different than, say, "Angel Eyes."
"Bleeding Hearts Alliance [Phase I]" introduces a low-volume orchestra, a manic piece for string, static and frequency, proving that terrifying compositions can arrive in the form of near-silence. By "DxSxDxH," the fright has transformed to heartbreak. Processed sounds very nearly form a human voice, albeit a creepy and celestial sound; one part Blade Runner, one part dirge. Gazing through the surge of unrecognizable forms is what seems to be the tremolo picking of clean-tone post-rock guitar, a haunting and innovative application, here. Side A closes with the dense and distant "Angel Eyes." By now the roar of static nearly obsoletes the rest: a blue-period synthesizer line; extended, remote samples of speeches and song; and a piano somewhere. The canvas is thick with angst, and the homesick listener pines for a moment of relief.
The expression "B side" has developed some negative connotations over its lifetime, a fact that the composers appear to celebrate here. Over half of the 20-minute span is devoted entirely to noise: in this light, track names like "Chaos Reigns" and "White Mourning" are telling. Subsequent listens pick up slightly more complete samples nested far underneath the signal, and this is not exactly harsh white static, either (while this reviewer is far from an expert on the color spectrum of noises, it seems to lean toward the more user-friendly brown). "White Mourning" starts the steady return toward melody, and only here is it evident that the slow dissolution of the album's first half is being reversed during its second. It is a delicate, high-register, almost naive synthesizer piece, and an incongruous recovery, to be sure.
The title and the tempo of "Drift Theory" remind us of the stakes: tectonic shifts, the slow movement of massive continents, the reshaping of the world. The glacial morphing from one theme to the next transforms the synth-lite of "White Mourning" into something much thicker, and much more galactic, resembling in some ways "DxSxDxH." The imperfect mirrors between sides A and B culminate with "The Quiet Divide [Reprise]," which revisits the mournful, delirious ambiance of the opening track. The journey has been exhausting, like all meaningful trips are.
What comes next from this seductive troupe? It is impossible to say. It seems fitting that a project named Black Swan records exactly two albums. And a catalog such as this one is more than we ask of most open-identity musicians. Here in The Quiet Divide, the dualities are stark and jarring: ease and tension, clutter and synthesis, prettiness and beauty. But for all of the divisions, Black Swan has delivered a truly singular piece of art.
I don't know much about these guys but my opening gambit for harping on about the film Black Swan has been ruined as brett did it last time he reviewed them. Balls.... who says our reviews are formulaic? Not me for sure! Though I'm now slightly distracted by a Towelie video someone has just put on (him getting high on computer duster...). Anyway Black swan then... You get 2 sides of dark ish experimental ambience with some industrial rumblings. Think Philip Jeck and you're not a million miles away. It's essentially a lot of humming and rumbling with the odd semblance of melody creeping in here and there but it's mainly an exhibition of noise and art with some fuzz thrown in. It's an intense piece of music and one best enjoyed without someone putting South Park clips on.