Review: Kiera Mulhern – De ossibus 20 (Recital, Oct 23)

The first track on De ossibus 20, sound artist Kiera Mulhern’s debut full-length, is like a slow submerging into a bath of perfectly warm water. It proceeds through a murk of churning haze with ease: languid spin cycle drone, ghostly chatter, tactile shift. The extra-soft rug is soon pulled from under our feet, however, for Mulhern’s own voice finally surfaces after an unceremonious snatching-away of that fragile fog-scape, rising in layers of wavering vocalizations that twitch with distortion, skips, and shudder as they begin to thicken and coalesce before ultimately ceasing to let some muffled coffee shop ambience to close out the track (McCann describes the LP as “burying a microphone in a book”; I’m not sure if he meant it literally, but here it certainly sounds as if we’re closed out of something yet still near enough to hear it). Mulhern’s superb ear for the extremely abstract poetics of the voice-in-place is no fluke, for the remaining tracks on De ossibus 20 continue to offer up a plethora of delightful texture-stew, from the seething, organic effervescence and lush garble of “Self-auscultation 5/24/20” to the paranoid whispers and ambiguous spatiality of “Sow”; from the hair-raising sound-web and unfinished statements of “Signs in the memory” to the deeply immersive sonic environment and tentatively blown recorders of the concluding “Syrinx.” Works that are truly abstract while also feeling extremely intimate are rare, but Mulhern’s singular explorations, despite their constant elusiveness, strike emotional chords far, far below one’s conscious radar.

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