* 20 21 Repress ** The globe-trotting Robert Millis returns to Helen Scarsdale for this beautifully fragile album of dissolved glass rendered as a collage of recontextualized minimalism. To astute listeners, Millis should be a household name due to his work in the unpredictably diverse Climax Golden Twins as well as his impeccable curations for Sublime Frequencies (collections include the Deben Bhattacharya: Men and Music on the Desert Road and Indian Talking Machine books). His previous solo work include Relief (released here on The Helen Scarsdale Agency in 2013) and The Lonesome High for the Sun City Girls’ Abduction Records in 2016. His scholarship into the hidden corners of music across the world has also earned him Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships.
Related Ephemera is an album composed mostly from the hiss, the crackle, the surface noise of 78rpm shellacs and wax cylinders. “Horrifying,” Millis explains “is the concept to record collectors that vinyl degrades and can be easily damaged. however, initially records were considered ephemeral, especially 78rpm records. They were novelties. Fleeting. Entertainment.” Millis intends for the album to be a feedback loop whereby the patina of handling, playing, living with the record will circle back to the original source material. Furthering that metaphor, Millis amplifies and dilates feedback tones generated from his collection of vintage gramophones.
That said, Millis does cite the intrusion of exactly one field recording, a broken toy, and a few notes from a cello. But the construction of these rarified tones, crispy textures, ghostly rattles, and fluid resonance that ripples through all of Related Ephemera has its origins in the tactile nature of the vinyl medium. It’s hardly the stuff of sentimental nostalgia though. Related Ephemera is more an act of time travel, slipping backwards and forwards with the scratch of a needle (Watch out! What pre-recorded needle jump sound is not your turntable going haywire!). The emotional core to the album is that of a resigned melancholy, almost Bergman-esque in its starkness but not without a brief moment of dark humor.
Here is an album that aligns itself aesthetically with Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy For Lilith, Philip Jeck’s more languid collages, and even some of Harry Bertoia’s sculptural atmospherics.
The vinyl was mastered and cut by Helmut Ehler at D&M Berlin, whose expertise was necessary given that part of the original compositions from Millis’ reworked surface noise were exceedingly problematic to cut. The D&M cut does temper the composition into a mysterious, diaphanous cloud; where the digital-only mastering provides a cascade of insects gnawing within your inner ear. Two facets. One piece of music.