When I was very young I developed a fascination with the makeup of the classic symphony orchestra, in large part due to the fact that my grandfather was on the board of the Jackson, Mississippi symphony. Most of my interests in life led to some sort of obsession with taxonomy, and the sheer variety of instruments was what probably grabbed me at first. I recall my grandad saying something about the harp, that was like an ‘open piano,’ piano being his primary instrument at the time. I never even began to grasp the complex universe of this otherworldly instrument even as my own fascination with stringed instruments developed over the years.
I’ll admit some bias here. Mary Lattimore and Mac McCaughan are both dear friends and collaborators. But they are also two people to whom I look for a sort of life inspiration because they share similar prismatic views of life’s possibilities - an unbridled enthusiasm and a desire to be constantly seeking. This endless and rambling energy certainly informs the music that they make separately, but coming together here as a duo makes so much sense, spiritually as much as musically. And as the results will testify to your ears, it’s a lovely concord of sounds they’ve made for you.
I don’t know how you feel, but if our current social and cultural landscape is one of exhausting noise, chaos, and unconscious verbalism, then the pieces on "New Rain Duets" express an impossibly gorgeous anecdote. Diaphanous melody emerges from the strings of Mary’s harp, at times reminiscent of a room full of antique music boxes playing different songs but in accord. The synthesizer textures from Mac float in and around the harp’s arpeggios, warm like cloud cover, then disturbed and more harshly electronic. Like the textures on Bowie’s Berlin albums with Eno, there is a ceaseless sense of beauty and foreboding coexistent.
The four movements in this collaboration snake and float through a liminal sonic universe, without a linear sense of tension/release but rather a calm and brooding build into a widening pool of immersive sound. The title ‘New Rain Duets’ gives me an evocative sense of just that, rain falling in some far off locale, a sort of psychedelic natural tone poem. One of the great strengths of this duo is that both artists are consistently searching with their own sounds. Mary manipulates her harp with loop and delay pedals while Mac mimics on his synthesizers, layering and processing as he goes. The final marriage of tones and players yields the perfect balance of acoustic and electronic. It’s a new vein of chamber music, both meditative and exploratory.
As a Southerner, I guess I want to make something of a case for the North Carolina roots of both Mary and Mac, that as if there’s some sort of rural Gothic energy flowing through these sounds like ghosts in the countryside. That would be disingenuous to both artists though. The truth is “cosmic music” doesn’t belong to anyone of a particular time or geography. It lives not just in the notes played but the ones in between, and when rendered in such a way as this record, it yields a thing of true beauty and wonder.