By Amanda Nordqvist
Slaapwel Records, the Belgian label specialized in releasing music to fall asleep to, recently collaborated with the US composer Danny Clay and produced Slaapwel xiv, Periphery. Clay has collaborated with several different labels, and has already worked together with Slaapwel curator Stijn Hüwels, so the decision to join forces for a “sleepy soundtrack” came naturally. The base for the four tracks is a simple tune Clay remembers from a childhood visit to his grandparents’ church, a tune he develops and unravels in four different but equally nuanced fashions, and the result is 45 minutes of lulling bliss.
Periphery 1 introduces us to a soft, gentle spirit, with grand ambience and minimalistic piano, side by side with cello and flute. Their voices bloom out into the whooshing sensation of the shimmering background, and slowly succumb to their surroundings, the ever hovering ambience. There's a lovely, unbothered sensation to the track, as if anything could come next, so there's no need to think too hard about it - instead it allows a freedom to let the mind wander, accompanied by the absentminded tinkering on the piano, truly as if part of the shimmering periphery and not something we could see from straight on.
The second track has a delicately soothing effect, though something slightly somber is shuddering just out of reach. I feel placed in an empty field, with nothing but a gentle breeze as company - cello like the earth rumbling beneath; flute like the odd bird calling out to her brethren; piano like a translator of my thoughts, portraying them so soundly - clear and full of purpose for just a moment at the time, and then fleeting again, floating away unspoken, unheard. Then, halfway through, the sun is setting and stars pop up, one, two, then all at once - the breeze, though warm, is slowing down and the flute tells me of the constellations, the cello speaks of night time cicadas, the piano whispers of the way the whole land just holds its breath in the moonlight.
Periphery 3 has more purpose in every movement, a thought to every nuance - there's an intoxicating awareness in the air. The track moves like a painter with millimeter precision, brush hovering, one perfect stroke at the time, never rushing. Again there's this perfect balance of piano, cello and flute, where no one is claiming too much space, yet none is left with more to say.
In Periphery 4, now completely tucked in and with heavy eyelids, we relish in the unafraid fragility of the flute, the ultracalm, provident cello, and the piano with the curiosity to roam a little more freely. Truly like three sentient entities with three very different sounds and personalities, the instruments have been used to their each respective full potential, and perfectly weighed up by the surrounding ambience. The long tracks of the album allow for an unhurried pace, where every second can be appreciated to full extent, and the pauses are equally important. To listen to this ensemble of instruments in a slow, thoughtful conversation, one musing after the other, their voices one at the time or perfectly interblending, truly put my soul at ease, and if you ever find yourself with trouble sleeping, do yourself a favor and look to the Periphery.