Two new releases that bear the mark of Past Now Tomorrow were by no means created as companion pieces. But Whispers Of Night’s The Dead Blessing, and the Leo Suarez + Majid Araim + Ben Shirley trio’s voice resolve are forever bound by time, place, physical aesthetics, and a dedication to pushing improvised music into deeper and higher plains of the imagination.
At the core of both releases stands the duo of cello player and Past Now Tomorrow label owner Ben Shirley and mandolin player Majid Araim. Together, they’ve fleshed out a singular musical voice while employing an arsenal of instruments—cello, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, recorder, piano, reed organ, Korg MS-20, percussion, walkie talkies, tapes, and radio—to explore a haunted and wildly shifting terrain of musical timbres and colors.
“We did a crazy experiment with a process of overdubbing,” Shirley says of the Whispers Of Night release. “We improvised the initial pieces, then we started overdubbing. But only one of us wore headphones: One of us was listening to and playing along with what was already in the can. The other was responding to what was happening in the room. We traded back and forth, and a submerged musical composition rose up out of the ether as we went along,” he adds.
They recorded the sessions for The Dead Blessing using both a 4-Track and a computer. When finished, they spent weeks mixing it all together before Ben Price at Studilaroche put the final mastering touches on the five cavernous pieces presented here.
For voice resolve [sic.], Araim and Shirley teamed up with Philadelphia-based percussionist Leo Suarez to record a stripped-down early morning improv session—Shirley stuck with his cello, and Majid with a mandolin, violin, and his voice. Press play on the opening number, “Morning Of A Georgia Faun,” and the session sputters to life. The opening number’s title alone calls to mind Shirley’s former band—Faun And A Pan Flute—and Georgia native and saxophonist Marion Brown’s pastoral 1970 album Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun (ECM). Both provide heady context, and the song serves as an excellent entrypoint for the album’s lush and quietly calamitous survey of Georgia’s avant-garde landscape. The music is beautiful, abstract, and reflexive as songs such as “Let The Fish Gossip,” and “Grass So Soft” draw out tension in a subtle cacophony of sounds summoned from the depths of the subconscious minds of three players who all have their antennae dialed into the same frequencies.
Prior to this session, Suarez, Araim, and Shirley had jammed together sporadically while Whispers Of Night was on the road playing shows around the country. In June of 2019, after Suarez played a show at the Magic Lantern, the three reconvened at 8 a.m. to roll tape. Ofir Klemperer recorded the session as they all locked in with their instruments. Aside from one small, imperceptible cut, the session went down as is.
“We consciously chose to make the trio not Leo + Whispers, as we conceived of it as each individual bringing their own independent voice to the group, rather than any sort of specific sound,” Shirley says.
Both the Whispers Of Night and Suarez + Araim + Shirley releases live on Past Now Tomorrow’s Bandcamp page. A limited edition of 50 copies of The Dead Blessing and voice resolve on CD can be found on the Bandcamp page as well—not for long, though. The sturdy, cardboard sleeves and hand-assembled cover art brings a tactile element to music that often eludes conventional terms.
“I wanted to have a unifying aesthetic for this set of releases,” Shirley says. “I’m trying to still produce physical things, even though not many people buy them. This way I can make them at a low cost and keep the charge down. I use the least amount of plastic possible, and still have sturdy packaging with a spine on the side—working at WREK, I know that your CD is way more likely to get pulled off the shelf if it has a spine that looks interesting. That’s at least part of the idea.”