This is Steven Stapleton’s second collaboration with the Czech violinist and multi-instrumentalist Aranos (Petr Vastl), following on from 1997’s Acts of Senseless Beauty. Whereas that album was a normal CD release, this is a limited edition artwork; in fact, its 500 copies may be sold out by the time you read this. Stapleton and Aranos painted huge, abstract designs on 8 ft by 4 ft sheets of hardwood and exhibited them for one day only at a gallery in Galway, with the CD on continuous play throughout the day. Afterwards the paintings were cut up into 1000 six-inch squares, which were then turned into the covers for the 500 CDs.
It may seem egregious, faced with such a perfectly executed conceptual art gesture, to discuss the actual music. Thankfully, however, Santoor Lena Bicycle is no mere installation piece, but a fully realised and welcome addition to the Nurse With Wound catalogue.
One of the most remarkable things about Stapleton has always been the way that his strategies of tape manipulation and studio trickery resist sounding like dry concrète experiments, being filled instead with consummate vitality and wicked humour. These gifts are well to the fore here, with Aranos’ skirling instrumentation adding fresh layers of acoustic energy.
The album differs from most NWW releases in that it consists of mostly short, concise tracks instead of extended, exploratory pieces. As a result, there is an unusually wide variety of sounds and textures. Some of these are more welcome than others: Stapleton ill-advisedly indulges his occasional fondness for conventional rhythmic patterns on the slow nightclub groove of ‘Mary Jane’ and the disastrous funk of ‘Sunset Baby Mother’. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on virulent percussion and complex, jarring shifts of tone. The mood is by turns playful and sinister, with stabbing piano and skittering violin colliding uneasily with deranged scrapings of wood and metal. This is the churning, discordant work of two gifted musicians: spaced-out, hypnotic and shudderingly creative.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)