'Subaerial' is the latest and most sophisticated transmission from the long musical partnership of cellist Lucy Railton and keyboardist Kit Downes, a collaborative history that stretches back thirteen years. From the beginning, the pair bridged musical worlds, with the former emerging from classical and contemporary music and the latter steeped in jazz tradition.
This phenomenal new album captures the musicians erasing lines between approaches and traditions. While improvisation has always been a part of their alliance, Subaerial marks the first time that the duo have used recorded improvisations as the core material for a release. The cello and organ, beautifully recorded by Alex Bonney at Skáholt Cathedral, blend in richly striated harmonies, with phrases and cadences that stretch back centuries while sounding unerringly contemporary.
The pair first crossed paths whilst studying in London and spent the following decade collaborating in various groups whilst cutting their own distinct paths. By the time they rendezvoused in Iceland in the fall of 2017 to create 'Subaerial', Railton had moved to Berlin, where her embrace of electronics was leading her in new directions, exploring microtonality, psychoacoustics, and synthesis, an evolution captured on shape-shifting albums released by experimental imprints like Editions Mego, PAN, and Takuroku. Her debut solo album Paradise 94 released on Modern Love features Downes on organ. Around the same time, Downes had been signed to ECM and was directing much of his focus on the organ—his original instrument—on the two recordings he’s made for the hallowed imprint, including the 2019 album 'Dreamlife of Debris', which features the cellist.
The duo decamped to Iceland and traveled around the southwest region of the country, visiting many churches before settling on the warm, resonant acoustics of Skáholt Cathedral. In the end they decided to create music spontaneously, embracing the immediacy and unmediated rapport they’d developed over the years. The performances are meditative and pensive and the phenomenal church organ at Skáholt allows Downes to produce a kaleidoscopic range of colours and tones, manipulating an instrument often dubbed the original synthesiser to produce sounds clearly related to much of Railton’s work with spatialisation, uncommon tunings, and electronics. It’s often hard to believe that the only post-production on 'Subaerial' comes on the final track, 'Of Becoming and Dying', where the music seems to evaporate into the ether. In fact, the seven pieces were culled from the three-hour session with only edits breaking up bigger chunks of improvisation. The music flirts with drone and free improv, but it remains gloriously slippery, eschewing any single practice in favour of a more holistic conception of sonic exploration.
Railton and Downes couldn’t have made this music a decade ago. They’ve voraciously assimilated new ideas and feverishly explored new approaches together and on their own, and that work has led them to a thrilling new place captured on 'Subaerial'.