To call Celer, the now one-man project of American sound and visual artist William Thomas Long, prolific would be an understatement of sorts. At the time of writing, the discography on his extremely professional-looking webpage (www.thesingularwe.org) contained no less than fifty-five label- and thirty-three self-released items. Considering the first of those came out a meagre eight years ago, we’re talking an average of almost one release a month. It’s simple, if sheer quantity had any intrinsic value in the realm of artistic expression, the 32-year old Mississippi native would be up there with the best.
‘Without Retrospect, the Morning’ is the third and final instalment in a water-themed trilogy which includes 2008’s ‘Cursory Asperses’ and 2009’s ‘In Escaping Lakes’ (both released on Japan’s Slow Flow Rec) and documents the time spent by William on a photographic and survey mission in South Alberta, Canada, back in the winter of 2009. Armed with two open reels and a box of old tape recordings, he set about cutting and pasting the material he had brought along, mixing it with field recordings of ice, snow and wind collected from his wintry abode. After lying around for a couple of years, the tapes were finally mastered in Tokyo, where William had in the meantime re-located, and released in December of last year by Italy’s Glacial Movements, home of all things cold and arctic, a natural choice indeed.
What firsts strikes the casual listener is how inexplicably low the album has been mixed, which renders it all but inaudible to those not equipped with a good pair of headphones. Granted, the crystalline nature and assumed fragility of its seven songs demand, command even, a certain level of refinement and delicateness but having to stretch one’s ears to actually hear the material is taking things a bit too literally. When, a couple of minutes into the record, sounds finally start to emerge from the mists of one’s subconscious and coalesce into intelligible patterns, they do so with ethereal parsimony, threatening to dissolve into aural nothingness at any given moment. Mostly based around little more than a tenuous string of mid-range frequencies and devoid of any real chromatic progression, they seem to simply float around without ever truly dropping anchor into one’s psyche.
If water is being evoked at all on this album, it is always in its frozen and vaporous guises. Listened to in the right frame of mind, ‘Without Retrospect, the Morning’ does a fine job at evoking the kind of pristine and hushed atmosphere which one equates with snow-covered expanses when the rays of the sun slowly begin to pierce through the milky veil of the morning fog. Forget the (admittedly gorgeous) cover art and liner notes for a moment, though, and you could easily come up with another ten or so equally valid explanations as to what the sounds – and I use the term loosely – mean to you. It is almost as if one’s imagination kept bouncing off patches of black ice while vainly attempting to make sense of what it (almost) hears.
For all its suggestive qualities, ‘Without Retrospect, the Morning’ more often than not comes across as being low-key and non-eventful for the sheer sake of it and one never gets the impression that the artist is actually trying to share something with them. Coming from someone who could listen to the whistle of a boiling teapot for hours on end, this is saying a lot. I am positive that William has a clear vision of what he is actually trying to achieve on an artistic level (the quality of his photography attests to it) but for fifty-two defiantly hermetic minutes, Celer’s opus feels like listening to someone talking to themselves. Which might work a treat in this increasingly voyeuristic society but left this reviewer untouched.