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Marvin Ayres
(Burning Shed)

Neptune is the second album of "string design" music from Marvin Ayres released around the turn of the century on the now-defunct label Ritornell. Along with his own solo releases, Ayres has performed with members of the Culture Club, Simply Red, Prefab Sprout, Jaki Leibezeit (Can), and others. He has also collaborated with filmmaker Pete Gomes on a recent art installation/audio-video release entitled Sensory.

There are two somewhat distinct differences between Ayres' debut release Cellosphere and Neptune. The first is that the tracks on Neptune are much shorter in length (for the most part) and develop at a much faster pace than the longer pieces on his earlier release. The second major difference is that although it is still a part of the release, Ayres tones down the use of distortion, noise, and feedback on Neptune, instead focusing much more squarely on melody rather than pure string tone and texture.

The above points are made pretty clearly on the opening tracks of the release, as both "Wave" and "Breath" layer strings in very dense ways and let the tones come through in the mix much more clearly as they overlap with one another. One interesting thing about the stringed instruments on the release (violin, violo, and cello) is that they're all the electric versions of the instruments. Ayres states in the liner notes than this was done on purpose in order to exploit the unique (and slightly more limited) qualities of the electric counterparts, and like his first release, one of the main differences that one can hear is that the sounds are just slightly colder than one would expect (especially from such a full-bodied instrument as a cello).

That said, Neptune is a much more developed release than Cellosphere and has nearly all of what makes that first album interesting with the addition of much more developed songs and ideas. "Tug" is a track that shows off all of the above, swirling through nearly eight dense minutes as violin, viola, and cello strains undulate out and over one another while plucked cello notes provide the slightest of backbone. The centerpiece of the release is the seventeen minute "Drift," and the slowly-developing track is an absolute gem of haunting refrains and subtle tones and counter-melodies that just beg for deep listening.

"Swell" gets downright playful at times, looping small, watery fragments of sound and flipping them backward on one another while "Sea Minor" closes the release with overbearing flanged-sounds that don't even sound like they belong on the release at all. Even though all his experiments aren't completely successful, they show off the work of an artist who didn't want to simply make the same album twice. An excellent, somewhat overlooked album that is fortunately seeing release again.

Rating: 7.75