Review: Barlow / Peterson / Wivinus – The Transparent World (2001)


artist: Barlow / Petersen / Wivinus
release: The Transparent World
format: CD
year of release: 2001
label: Hand/Eye
duration: 66:17

detailed info: discogs.com

Rich Barlow, Jesse Petersen and Erik Wivinus are a musical trio from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who’ve banded together for a CD of acoustic improvisational songmaking. All three men have ample experience in other musical and artistic projects, and that shows in the final quality of this excellent first album. Only a demo CD-R came out before this, if I understand correctly, and no album has yet followed.

The music on The Transparent World is instrumental, largely improvised, completely acoustic, and quite experimental in nature. A wide range of instruments and playing styles is used, including 6 and 12 string guitars, mandolin, zither, percussion, piano, and exotic stuff like ‘rattletrap’ and ‘freeman’s monostring’. The result of this an excellent album of moody, evocative acoustic music.

In a way, many parts of the album sound distinctly ‘American’, and in a very positive way. The opening track, “Buried Under Crows”, immediately makes this clear. The slide guitar gives the track a musical colour that for a non-American like myself is typical for the wild natural areas of the States. The song could come straight from the prairies, though not in a way as cliché as that sounds. This kind of feeling returns often on the album, and I envision a musical journey through desolate plains, murky bayous, frontier railroad towns, and so forth, but all in a deeper, different way than most cultural commonplaces. Barlow, Petersen and Wivinus not only depict these landscapes, but also the ghostly and mythical layers beyond. Though the musical connection is not always strong, one can consider this music as a sort of American counterpart to what Xenis Emputae Travelling Band is for Britain.

Of course, all this interpretation is highly personal, and might not reflect what others feel with this kind of music. Sticking more to aural facts, it’s safe to say that these are ten original, complicated and gripping tracks, sometimes calm (yet brooding), sometimes more intense, but always strong, dreamy, evocative. The album can also be compared to more recent projects like A Broken Consort and The Juniper Meadows (though for more elaborate than the latter), but it also predates them, making this an important album from the beginning of the decade. It’s a shame this has been it so far, and I hope a follow up will appear some time. Until then, this is an excellent album that no one into freefolk and experimental acoustics can afford to miss.

Reviewed by O.S.

Tracklist:

1. Buried Under Crows (7:58)
2. Boatman (4:44)
3. An Unmarked Trail (10:41)
4. Husk (3:15)
5. Death’s Door (4:06)
6. Flintlock Tincture (4:25)
7. That Night (6:38)
8. Creation Myth (13:14)
9. Ray of Daylight (1:28)
10. Retribution (9:48)

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