Review: ‘Circumstance Synthesis’ Sees Julianna Barwick Navigate Ethereal Soundscapes; Delicately Woven With A.I & Nature

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Julianna Barwick | Circumstance Synthesis | RVNG Intl.

Release Date: 20 December, 2019

American musician Julianna Barwick’s approach to composition is unlike anything one would expect; embarking the creation of electronic music in new, innovative ways that make the artist truly distinctive in her sound. Barwick’s companionship with her loop station brought her experimental embark into ambient music into focus – by taking her vocalisations and looping them, layered with washes of effects into coherent structures, the composer further ventured into different territories of music creation – as seen in her collaborative improvisational album with Ikue Mori, and classical influences working with Icelandic string ensemble Amiina.

In her fourth album, ‘Circumstance Synthesis’, Barwick’s relationship with technology showcases the beauty of the natural world – through the use of A.I – a juxtaposing, yet beautiful collaboration between the organic and technological. In 2019, Barwick used a custom-coded program and Microsoft A.I technology to create compositions for Manhattan hotel Sister City. After installing a camera facing the sky on the roof of the hotel, whenever movement was detected – it would trigger sounds that Barwick had compiled into a soundbank. In this manner, Barwick worked in tandem with A.I and nature, to create an ambient album that surpasses any ideas one would have when it comes to the creation of electronic music.

morning‘ opens with a shimmering golden light; streaming through gossamer curtains, falling gently over eyes awakened from slumber. Barwick’s vocals glide as tender clouds across the ambient soundscape, flowing gently in reverberation as angelic loops weave effortlessly between harmonious chimes and glimmering swells – choirs of clouds float in an atmospheric bliss, welcoming a tone thoughtful and introspective. The literal integration of nature as a tandem creator shines through, as a delicate soft-heart gazing upward at a new dawn.

The glistening translucence of ‘noon‘ is introduced in oscillating waves; rays of sunshine beaming with luminosity, Barwick’s ethereal vocals sail through a clear sky – looping as flocks of birds, swirling in loving companionship. Spheres of sound encompass a sprawling landscape, lush synths drawing breaths in crescendo; blossoming with life, buds sprouting from the soft earth grow between modern architecture and bright new worlds of innovation. The glow of A.I sculpting nature into a coherent sphere of sound allows for an intimate experience; the organic merged with human transformation singing gently in collaboration.

The luminosity of a starry cyber-synth introduces ‘evening‘ as a celestial fading of the light; dusk falling upon Barwick’s vocal rays as they simmer into the hazy day’s gradient. A climactic horizon of synths rise as the emotional electronic timbres fall delicately – the energy of the afternoon tiring into a velvet darkness as a gleaming moon crawls into view. Quivering layered vocals and harmonious synths stud the atmosphere with an angelic light throughout ‘evening’s hypnosis, settling down, preparing for a glittering twilight.

Circumstance Synthesis‘ is undeniably a work of art; a collaboration between Barwick, modern A.I technology and the natural world allows for an engrossing experience (as opposed to labelling the album as an ambient score) – the production of which enough to capture one’s attention alone – yet, aside from the fascinating intricacies of it’s creation the album takes one on a beautiful, interpersonal journey.

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Rating: 8.5 / 10

Feature Image: Julianna Barwick by Shawn Brackbill

Review by Jenna Dreisenstock