LABEL: Artificial Pinearch Manufacturing

ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: Brussels based ambient / contemporary classical duo make a concept album inspired by Italo Calvino’s experimental novel Invisible Cities

One way to arrive at Astoria is on the back of a steel-eyed falcon, wings beating against the prevailing wind; the trade currents that scoop the ocean and spill it once more across the harbour. Locals bolt the doors for the fear of being blown away, washed away, waved away, swallowed by the sea or sieged by the frost of the northern moor. They whisper that you should have come by herring gull.

How do you capture the heart of Astoria? Wait. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I thought I had it there. It’s a city mostly on the end of someone else’s amnesia. Translucent city. Mis-timed city. The next stop after the luck runs out. A tear-eyed girl on a talent show who just wants to get to boot-camp. But Astoria is a city that refuses to go quietly, that refuses to be forgotten. It is a church of bronze giants with faith that any deficiency, any slight, any budget shortfall can be covered by sheer determined, dogfight effort. It is a city on a treadmill, sticking to the plan, training for the day it will run to keep pace with the cities that stay as far away as the thermosphere from sea level. It is a city so desperate to be seen, that it finds it hard to be heard.

On the plaza, on autumn days when the rain falls sideways, sometimes the citizens of Astoria see the ghost of a lost giant television screen strobing, flickering hologrammatic. On screen are two musicians playing a livestream from the city of Estella. Astorians are not afraid of this apparition, they have permission to ignore anything that comes from Estella. They instinctively judge these to not be their songs. These musicians forge textures, weave patterns, stir feedback into thermals of sound. There is a piano arpeggiating, a string section poised, melodies that open like wildflowers, implicit rhythms, a choir of ghosts. This is music of phases, sinewaves as landscapes, abstract tenderness.

Those who stop to listen on the plaza find it hard to shake the sense that this music is not theirs. It bears the image and the fragrance of the soundtracks for dramas of the young, rich, sex-drenched emperors in the mansions of Victoria. What has that to do with Astoria? But on the spectral jumbotron, as the music continues, a new montage is broadcast. You see a petrol-station attendant sat at their kiosk in the pre-dawn, faded rainbows in windows, a care-home resident battling for memory, mechanics, children in uniform on a bus, crows, gulls, hi-vis jackets, the queues for the Weatherspoons, darkened roomfuls of poets, a street argument, a ferocious concentration on not crying, pink skies at sunset, Christmas lights never taken down, fishermen sailing into the lonely ocean. Beneath the blueprints for a brighter tomorrow, this is another vision of Astoria; a form of contemporary dance, a subtle hint of what it might mean to be a metropolis away from the towers and titans. The strange ambient music from Estella is supple enough, human enough, to compassionately soundtrack this dance of the invisible city too; dignifying, affirming, capturing something of the heart of Astoria.

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