Paths by Darren Harper

Darren Harper | Paths
Shimmering Moods (CD/CS/DL)

An album of discovery, Paths finds Darren Harper flexing his patch cables and following his intuition in modular synthesis.  In the artist’s own words, it’s the result of “missteps and error, a process of understanding; an unfolding”.  And unfold it does, slowly and sweetly, as Harper teases out the most sparkling ambient soundscapes I’ve heard in a long time.  The album is focused solely on his modular rig, gone are the gentle guitar musings of his previous records.  This attention to a single sound source gives the collection a loose, improvised feel and I can imagine Harper reproducing this material in a live setting to a blissed-out audience.

Each track here shares a similar sound range that ebbs and flows like leaves on a lazy river.  Opening track, A Delicate Dance, issues glistening chime tones that are shifted and offset by delays.  The overall tone is bright, with upper frequencies glinting like stars.  There is a randomness in the melodies, but never straying too far from the pattern imposed upon them.  These chimes are brisk, overlapping each other but rarely crowding the stereo field.  Harper takes the speed down a notch with the following piece, Slow Reveal.  Fading in from silence, this shares the same shining tonality of the preceding piece, but layers on a thick, treacly drone to weigh down the chimes.  There is more balance between the frequencies here, and I feel these first two tracks could possibly be counterparts from the same session.

Snow Capped takes things down a lot lower musically, but higher conceptually.  Harper lives in Colorado, and I can only assume he sees a lot of beautiful snowy mountains that provide inspiration for his sound practice.  On this track, gone are the overtly sweet and bright tones, replaced by something a little more widescreen and majestic.  This track packed quite an emotional punch for me; so expressive, so expansive.

The mid-point track Wooded brings back those bright notes, this time the chimes are replaced with keys, the attack of which add all manner of clicks and pops, creating a tactile quality.  This is the longest piece on Paths, and it gradually unfurls itself into a languid pool of textured ambience.  Everything about this album feels patient, but this track is especially restrained.  But the most evocative track is saved for the final few minutes.  Shadow of Spring allows field recordings to be threaded through Harper’s rig, as gliding bell tones melt and morph above them.  The long release times of each note drift into infinity, as a warm glow buzzes off them.  This is both ethereal and sun-kissed, and left me wanting more.

This is a gloriously understated album, yet wholly satisfying in its mellow meanderings.  Refreshingly simple, yet at times the patterns create hallucinatory strands and shapes that the listener can get completely lost in, if they let themselves go and follow down the unbeaten path of Harper’s sonic explorations.

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