Stereocilia Murmurations drone album review John Scott guitarist

Album Review: Stereocilia – Murmurations

Stereocilia – Murmurations

A murmuration is a “low continuous indistinct sound; often accompanied by movement of the lips without the production of articulate speech.”

It can also refer to a murmuration of starlings. The strange and beautiful natural phenomena where hundreds of small birds twist and spiral in formation, screwing helixes into grey skies above dead city spaces. Their fluid motions painting nature’s codes above industrial estates, around and under the spines of piers, in bus yards and train stations, revealing the complexity of it all.

Spanning both definitions, Murmurations is a more than apt title for the debut release from London-based guitarist and composer John Scott.

The confused twitch of a lip as the brain and body falter is an ideal place for experimental music such as Scott’s to begin. Instrumental compositions have the freedom to plough depths, explore textures of thought, communication breakdowns, directly respond to surroundings and channel internal dialogues, exploring the spaces between expression and thought. As a form, it is not forced to conform to a genre, a time frame, of traditional structures or pop dynamics, it does not even have to be pleasurable to the listener. It can just be.

The three compositions that make up Murmurations have been grown out of live improvisations, experiments with looping, sampling and sound manipulation. There is no time to consciously articulate a thought or theme in improv – music flows from you in an instant, each twist and turn is an instinct. Scott has honed elements of his live performances and pieced them together into three focussed compositions, representing a distillation of ideas and themes that have emerged organically.

It opens with FWD>> a low tonal drone embellished with shimmering and intricate guitar patterns that fold in on themselves over the course of twenty minutes like starlings feeding on the last scraps of daylight. There’s a nineties’ bagginess that unexpectedly emerges but soon these loose folds of psychedelia tighten around a central theme. A structure that is further imposed with strident chords acting like line breaks before FWD>> comes to a close in a delicate refrain that feels like an astral projection, creating the sensation of floating free in an unknown territory.

Dilute moves away from the contemplative sparse movements of FWD>> and is altogether more claustrophobic. It begins with a slow synth refrain under a clawing drone. A sense of tension and menace develops as high-pitched near feedback pierces an unrelenting circular undulation.

As the name suggests Bright Light breaks out of the shadows and is an expansive ambient offering, bathed in golden hues. There is no grumbling drone this time to pin it to murkier depths instead there is a soothing rhythmical hum. Bright Light has a distinctly neo-classical soundtrack element as cleaner airy guitar lines lead you over large desert plains. There is a wooziness as alien landscapes materialise through the heat haze, structures revealing themselves in a mirage of frayed lines.

Murmurations is a strong body of work that is both technically innovative and powerfully evocative. The tonal range, the subtlety, the sense of progression, and Scott’s ability to define and manipulate space make it a deeply rewarding listen.


Murmurations is available now via Bandcamp

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Tom Spooner

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