January air, chilling at the best of times, remains unfaithful during the colder months. It is perhaps the environment that suffers the most, as every living thing is clutched tightly in an icy grip. The temperature plummets, frequently falling well below zero. February continues the unrelenting streak, although the opening of Spring on the distant horizon is something to look forward to. Nothing escapes the cold, as frozen breaths hover over thin sheets of ice where water once flowed. Despite the cracked sculptures on the surface of the ice, the river remains frozen, trapped in crystal chasms where water used to run. Patience is all that is needed for the fluid body to return once again.
Eventually, sheets of ice are loosened in a sleepy awakening, out of their glacial coma and into the early trickles of fluidity, although it is a painstaking process of slow metamorphosis. Patiently, Hollow.River dissects the thawing of Piney Creek, which can be found near Banner, Wyoming. Accompanied by a video of glacial movement and point of view photographs, the process is brought to life in its defrosting drones and evaporating ice. In only 20 minutes, Yann Novak has carefully condensed the natural thawing process; nothing could be purer, and the music mirrors the river’s gradual melting as the cool ambience drips free from sheets of white crystal.
Immersive field recordings of water flow and dripping echoes hydrate the music. It’s like taking a deep, shivering dive deep into the river while avoiding the risk of hypothermia. As the drone first sets in, like jagged edges of rocky icicles trapped in the ceaseless rigidity of the ice, a fluid transition is eventually revealed and released, until the music pours out at a rate it once enjoyed. Lighter and lighter the music drifts on, as submersed drones remain underwater, encased in the splintering ice. Slowly but surely, the music is capable of attracting warmer thermal winds with the drone’s deep purity, but the music is also equally adept at sending at least a couple of goosebumps trickling down the arm in a reverse thaw, slowly melting away our own body heat. Pools of water never sounded so good.
Air bubbles float upwards towards the filmy, faded blue and subdued grey of the deflecting surface, like indistinct glimpses of smudged aurora lights. Novak’s work in sound and video installation rises to the fore, perhaps influencing the music directly; the music could be imagined inside an art gallery, or as a mood piece similar to William Basinski’s Watermusic. As reflections skim the surface, the ambience reflects the mystical, yet natural, process of the evolving ice. Never remaining still for long, the dank drones cruise over and under the currents, slicing through and curving a course along the river’s banks. Despite this course, the flowing drone stays free from any gritty, sedimentary rock that may cling to the sides along the way; the clarity and sanctity of running water ensures that the drone is baptised, keeping it safe from harm.
The river experiences an endless cycle between a covered and uncovered state that always takes root inside one or the other. Contrasting the purity of trickling water and the solid, shifting ice set in silver stone, the music also defrosts its own ambient environment. Pure is very much the word to describe Hollow.River. It isn’t just ambient music, it’s therapeutic. Although the temperature doesn’t record anything substantially higher than zero, Novak still manages to warm the drones until, eventually, the grip is loosened. The natural cycle of Piney Creek’s thawing compliments Novak’s ambience, and while Hollow.River skims towards pure ambient, the largely unvarying shifts in tone trap the music in icy drone.
Hollow.River is not only about a tranquil, blurry transformation; it also documents the constant process of liquid to ice, and its eventual return. The punctuation present in the title itself may possibly be the distancing of the two states; seemingly unbreakable shards that have been shattered by the warmth, transitioning back to fluidity before the ice set in. Underneath the thin sheet of ice, the current, and the river, flows on.
Finally, the river is revealed, almost like the visible presence of our chilled breath in the cold air, evaporating in its own cyclical clouds of rhythmic exhalation.
– A Closer Listen