Mush has wisely seen fit to provide the first U.S. issues of two albums from Qua, the musical alias of Australian sound artist Cornel Wilczek. As Qua, he combines multiple layers of organic and electronic elements into each of his expertly crafted pieces. These numerous and diverse sounds serve as building blocks for his finely detailed works, which are carefully assembled into a series of lush soundscapes. On the surface, some of the tracks seem simple, yet in terms of both structure and texture, they are highly complex, going through a gradual and graceful series of changes and evolutions, which reveal a living and breathing sound world. There is a wide array of textural variety throughout each of the pieces, which flow delicately and deliberately, expanding and contracting to become an elastic labyrinth of elaborately patterned sound fabric.
It’s a magical place to be, this land of Qua… blending acoustic instruments such as guitar, piano, melodica, and vibraphone with a number of electronic elements until the distinctions between the two are blurry, he achieves a depth of field that is impressively rich. His compositions are also constantly evolving, following a path that consistently defies expectations. Sometimes a song will continue to morph gradually until it no longer resembles what came before, while other times it will crumble into sonic debris, only to reassemble itself into a variant stream of the river which preceded it. This new stream in turn becomes a river as well, one which is often rife with more inventive rhythmic interplay. There is also an accomplished use of harmony, which at times appears to be informed by classical and jazz music, yet the overall sensibility falls much closer to pop than either of those genres. These songs have definite hooks, yet they never descend into monotony due to their overall complexity. Executed skillfully and with a joyously playful musical spirit, it’s easy to imagine Wilczek having fun creating these works, and it’s equally easy to enjoy them hearing the excitement he imbues them with.
Of the two releases, the more recent Painting Monsters on Clouds (originally issued on Australia’s Aurgery Records in 2004) is the superior effort, so I’ll focus primarily on that release in this review. Although there are definitely many moments of greatness on 2001’s Forgetabout, It also contains a few more derivative pieces, including a handful which show the obvious influence of fellow “organic electonica” technicians Mouse on Mars, particularly their mid- to-late ’90s heyday. Much like that German duo, Qua often finds inspiration in the world around him, making musical matter from the sounds of everyday objects, inserting them into his songs as if they were just another instrument. This is particularly noticeable on a few tracks from Painting. On “Luckybuster,” the sound of various (wooden, plastic, and metal?) objects being struck and the ringing of a bicycle bell are crafted into a flurry of propulsive percussion. More often though, these sounds are processed until they are just beyond recognition, then combined with other synthetic sounds, simply becoming another part of the shifting landscape of rhythmic and melodic interplay.
This interplay is a main strength of Qua’s music. Tied together in a firm knot, his rhythms are indeed melodic and his melodies are also rhythmic. The epic “Stranger Comforts Have Slipped By (Pt 1 & Pt. 2)” is a perfect example of this trait. Skittering glitch-like melodies skim like soft stones across a lake of lovely slow-floating keyboard waves, while a flurry of percussive snowflakes, each microscopically different, fall rapidly in patterns that defy logic yet are entirely logical. Over the course of ten minutes, the song comes to life, building up slowly and taking time to breathe every so often. More than once, the piece appears ready to fizzle out, only to be reborn and continue on to a glorious finale, including a wonderfully chaotic breakdown around the nine-minute mark. Another highlight from Painting (of which there are many) is the lovely “Devil Eyes,” which (like a number of other pieces here) has a melodic sensibility which evokes the far east, sounding like the score to a scene in a movie which shows the vast countryside of China as viewed through the window of a train traversing that massive landscape. It appears to be crafted from a number of stringed instruments both eastern and western in origin, along with a few keyboard sounds, and despite a lack of drum programming, it evolves with the same beauty and firm grasp of dynamics that makes Qua’s work such a delight.
I could easily go into detail about each of the tracks here, but suffice to say that Qua actually caused a crisis of sorts in this writer—after listening to these records repeatedly for weeks and trying to figure out how to capture the subtle beauty of these sounds, I realized that I was not sure I could do it justice in a written review. Indeed, due to this initial conundrum (and compounded by other personal concerns which I won’t go into detail about here), it’s taken me many months to finally finish this review. Perhaps it’s a case of too little too late, but I would hope not. It’s rare to find electronic music with such soul, and I urge you to check this one out if you consider yourself even a casual fan of the genre. A master at work within his field, yet apparently little known even in his home country, Qua deserves to be at or near the top of favorites lists everywhere. One would hope that these reissues have begun to rectify that situation.
Mouse on Mars – Glam or Instrumentals
Delarosa + Asora – Agony Part 1
Múm – Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK