Review: Portraits - Portraits
(LP, Important Records, 2012)
The idea of drone in Western popular music arose in the early 1960’s in a closely-knit group of music explorers, sound ethologists, outsider freaks and forward-thinking luminaries centered around the composer La Monte Young, and a group of his Eastern music-oriented buddies: Tony Conrad, Jon Cale, Marian Zazeela and Angus MacLise (among others, presumably). They harnessed the sustained, lengthy notes and transformed them into infinite hyponotic sessions that will be of great influence to the then non-existant genre of music that will later go on to be called psychedelic rock.
Fast forward over 40 years into the future, and the drone is rediscovered again, and applied into head music in various, thrilling ways: robe-clad amplifier worshippers translate it into a hyperamplified, throbbing bass experience, laser-eyed nostalgia kids filter it through vintage analog synthesizer circuits, others infuse their enchanted deep forest jams with endless notes played on various traditional instruments. Somewhere between those drone-lovers fall a supergroup called Portraits. Not only do they feature some of the finest representatives of all the aforementioned types of musicians, but they also focus on drone in its primitive, classical, almost academical, and definitely - most patience-requiring school of instrumental drone - the La Monte Youngian drone.
Apart from featuring the Root Strata management (including Jefre Cantu-Ledesma himself, the Californian overlord of Eastern sound hypnosis being the head of the project and Maxwell Croy, co-founder of the label and the astral being behind ambient project EN) and such heavyweights as Barn Owl’s Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras, the project still features a staggering list of participants, such as Lisa McGee (of Higuma fame, on of Porras’ side-projects), Gregg Kowalsky (of Date Palms) and Michael Elrod (also of Date Palms).
What might sound awesome in theory (as in: written text) loses a bit of its flair and grandeur while heard in action. There is no disappointment with the sound itself, rather, there is a sense of blending the sounds and styles of individual musicians to the point it doesn’t matter anymore who is playing who. It is a manifestation of pure harmony, the perfect unison of thoughts and ideas, and it is manifested best on the opening monolith “D”: over 21 minutes of enveloping, yet not crushing instrumental sound accented by rolling sitars, violins playing steadily, synthesizers droning idly in the universal cosmic understanding and oneness of vision. The entire track revolves around the D tuning and does not stray by more than a few pitches of the same note from the enormous gravity of the main, bassy drone, which seems to be the very “core” of the track – indestructible and eternal.
The following “Sa” follows the vocal-based, Zazeelian way of drone worship – it is a choir of voices repeating the sacred syllable “Sa” over the course of 4 and a half minutes, the proof that an impenetrable wall of sound can be even created with calm, meditative human vocals. The the human voice, not armed with any tool of modification, can be an instrument as powerful and hypnotic as the largest drum or sitar. Or gong – when it comes to the effect of a single use of a certain instrument, the gong is a league of its own. It is enough to hit it once, and an impact of reverb and its majestic sound leaves a long residue on the listener. The final track, “Gong”, focuses on the sounds of multiple gongs, multiplying the psychedelic, intense feel of the instrument and layering, amplifying it to create the ultimate religious experience.
If you are fascinated by the sheer power of drone music not for the extreme experiences, not for the “trippy” experiences but more for the meditative, cleansing experience – look no further. Potrait’s self-titled vinyl record is a massive, solid documentation of fascination with the spiritual enlightenment that comes with harnessing the eternal Drone.