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Shanna Sordahl, “When Blood Turns To Bone”

When I used to go to shows every week, I’d often end up seeing Shanna Sordahl in small performing spaces all around the Bay Area, sometimes performing solo with cello and electronics, and at other times taking part in an ever-changing cast of improvisers—the sets running twenty or thirty minutes, the music measured and attempting to make those cosy spaces seem doubled or more in size. When Blood Turns To Bone, an album comprising a single 28-minute piece, reminds me of those searching performances, except here Sordahl takes advantage of the precise timing that a more composed work allows.

The explanatory text on the album’s Bandcamp page lays out a structure of “4+ stages,” and true to that ambiguous number, I can guess at moments of transition in the music, but clear demarcation seems like it’s beside the point. Even in music as crisp and sharply defined as this, Sordahl develops everything patiently and not much is sudden, though the high whoosh of bowed cymbal in the piece’s first second hits like a shock, even after the first listen. Interlaced cello melodies in D minor set up a gateway for the half-hour, gradually diverging from each other before the piece briefly enters a dissonant phase—a premonition of a major transition several minutes later, when the cellos give way to an obsidian-like streak of droning sound. It’s as though Sordahl is bowing not just the cello but also the electronic layers, increasing their tension or letting them relax.

The carefully selected elements fade in and out gradually, and the piece’s ending inhabits a place of brightness. When we get there, the cello melodies resemble those at the beginning, but with a new kind of radiance—somewhere between the “reconstitution” and the “metaphysical transformation” that the notes to the piece describe. It’s a threshold moment, and it closes out my favourite work Sordahl’s made up to this point.

When Blood Turns to Bone is available now from Fallen Moon Recordings