Eric Arn is by no means a newcomer to the experimental rock scene. Since the mid ‘80s, he has been involved in a handful of avant-rock outfits, most notably the nomadic and amorphous Primordial Undermind. These projects all involved a healthy dose of tonal ambiguity and textural experimentation, with just a pinch of classic psychedelia. However, Arn’s solo catalog is much less expansive and, as such, he has only begun to test his expressive limits as an experimental songwriter. His sophomore studio album, Orphic Resonance continues to push the boundaries of ambient guitar.
Much like Arn’s work with Primordial Undermind and Outsideinside, Orphic Resonance uses a medley of innovative and unconventional guitar techniques to extract some intriguing sounds from the instrument. Arn seems much less interested in song structure or thematic cohesion than simply the creation of a diverse palette of spellbinding musical timbres. The album kicks off with “Praecox Feeling,” which firmly captures this sense of sonic manipulation. A swirling blend of ambient guitar drones escalates, whilst folksy acoustic twanging is gradually added to the mix. The final product is a deeply hypnotic sound journey, as the listener struggles to identify the various instrumental layers. If Arn were to merely replicate this compositional method over the album’s subsequent tracks, it would still make for an innovative collection of works. However, by the second track, he diverges. “Pas d’une Hélice” sees Arn at his most strikingly dissonant, as he plucks his way through a comparatively barren soundscape. His seemingly haphazard selection of notes evokes memories of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique (yet, now on acoustic guitar), as he employs the entire chromatic scale, all but eschewing tonality until the song’s final moments.
Yet the unforgiving dissonance of tracks like “Pas d’une Hélice” and “Es Wuchtet Gewaltig” is juxtaposed by Arn’s consonant drone-works scattered throughout the album and his Fahey-esque picking on “Tepeyollotl” and “Filament.” This prevents Orphic Resonance from ever truly becoming a cohesive listen, as we are never afforded the chance to settle on a single musical aesthetic. However, this diversity does give Arn the freedom to pull from the entire grab bag of experimental guitar sounds. And that he does. Orphic Resonance’s songs rarely recycle compositional techniques or ambient timbres. Scintillatingly enduring guitar drones color “The Lure of the Labyrinth” ’s jam-packed sonic landscape. “Chopping Wood Carrying Water,” on the other hand, features a much more stripped soundscape, with only faint static and periodic rings cutting through the silence. For less experimentally-minded listeners, “Tepeyollotl” offers a pleasant, 12-string acoustic line that makes use of some sixteenth-note picking. Finally – and most bizarrely – “Unstruck” merely boasts a small ensemble of overtone (or throat) singers, yielding an unnerving collection of quivering vocal textures.
Orphic Resonance is certainly impressive in its ability to manipulate a variety of sounds. Arn’s playing employs both conventional and stridently experimental methods. This, of course, prevents the album from ever gaining cohesive traction at times, as some of its tracks occupy entirely different genres and branches of tonality. However, for the listener of eclectic taste, Orphic Resonance can be spellbinding. It is an exceptionally ambitious sound project – perhaps even more so than his collaborative works – and has a little something for any and every fan of ambient-minded music.