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Christopher Willits Pollen Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Second album from San Franciscan guitarist and sound designer Willits.

Colin Buttimer 2004

The liner notes observe that Pollen is "... music that can be listened to both casually and critically." Strangely I found that this wasn't the case. I initially skipped through the CD to gain a quick impression, and decided that it was indeed the type of music that would allow me to get on with something else whilst listening.

Accordingly I went about various domestic duties while playing the CD in the background. However I found myself feeling anxious, even short of breath and only felt able to breathe freely again once I had turned the music off. I'm fortunate enough not to suffer from asthma, but as a result of this experience I can't help associating the pollen of the title with its allergy-triggering effects; in particular with those days in summer when the pollen count is at its highest and spoors are floating on the wind in their trillions.

Why this uncomfortable effect? The initial impression made by this music is of a pastoral, perhaps even wistful gentleness, but after only a short space of time it becomes clear how continuously each track teems with sound: there's no respite - literally no pause for breath - until the momentary pause between tracks arrives. Note is overlaid upon, rather than succeeding, note. Pollen has a very particular soundscape which results from the application of signal processes to guitar lines played by Christopher Willits. The original sound of the guitar may still be spied - not by its attack or decay but in the centre of the sound.

Moment by moment it's there, then gone again - trying to pin it down is an action akin to a dog chasing its tail - forever just out of reach. Try for too long and you end up dizzy. Small percussive noises, probably the byproduct of the processes applied to the guitar, are everpresent and are the aural equivalent of the plastic 'flash' attached to the parts of a plastic model kit which needs to be cut away with a sharp knife.

TheCD bears a rather gorgeous minimal cover design; hollow pixels are substituted for pollen. The liner notes within refer to Pollen as a "collection of ... folded guitar recordings". ­ It's a very elegant description which I find to be just slightly inaccurate. 'Folded' implies creases and sharp edges, but the music here is softer, more rounded and I'd be tempted to amend the description to a 'collection of wrapped guitar recordings'.

Pollen is like an intimate sonic version of Christo's wrapped Reichstag, whose sharp edges, corners and points have been rounded off and smoothed away. If these descriptions denote a degree of uncertainty then that would be true to this listener's experience of music which is simultaneously beautiful to behold and difficult to listen to, at least without undistracted attention.

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