I had the honour of catching up with Secret Pyramid’s Amir Abbey over some beers at a local watering hole just the other week. We briefly discussed Vancouver’s unpredictable and bustling experimental music scene, along with Abbey’s own musical process and what the future holds for Secret Pyramid. Before long we had paid our tabs and found ourselves perusing the selection at a nearby record shop. Every once in a while I’d pick out an album and ask his opinion on it, to which he always had plenty to say—the man’s craft may require isolation, but his music knowledge proves he’s not living in a cave. Before parting ways Abbey passed along his newest tape, A Pulse in Your Shadow, a single-sided release acting as precursor to his forthcoming album, Two Shadows Collide (noticing a theme?). You can expect that one to drop on all formats September 22 on Ba Da Bing! records. For now, let’s peel back the layers and take an in-depth look at the music at hand.
Though not a stranger to the uninterrupted long-form, Abbey tends to favour vignette-length composition. Typically, a Secret Pyramid album is made up of 5-10 tracks that average about six minutes per, a format that Abbey has become more than comfortable with. A Pulse in Your Shadow is an entirely different affair, showcasing a single, unbroken slab of music that clocks in at just over 27 minutes. Before coming anywhere near the play button, one knows Abbey had to change up his routine for this one, and that’s what I was most anticipating from this release, to see how he chose to adjust the well-set ideas behind his typical process given the substantially longer timeframe.
Evident is the work’s tweaked compositional approach, but what immediately sets A Pulse in Your Shadow apart is a more expansive use of familiar instruments. Using a keyboard, Upright piano, Ondes, and tape & effects manipulation—all of which have become typical Secret Pyramid fare—Abbey evokes sounds and styles beyond the Pacific Northwest bleary drones that have constituted much of his past work and the work of his coast dwelling contemporaries. This influence is still present, of course, but Abbey is smart in tagging this as ‘minimalism,’ as the piece elicits the sounds and ideas that trickle back through names like Eno, Glass, Riley and Reich. From the onset we hear Abbey’s take on what one might deem a “percussive ambient”—namely, short, bell-like tones that clink and jangle repeatedly to often mesmerizing effect. Get a few of these layers happening at once and the music’s possibilities can seem endless (These days I favour this approach to the steady-state work of, say, Tony Conrad or Eliane Radigue, but at some point I’m sure the pendulum will swing back).
A Pulse in Your Shadow is seamless, but its narrative has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Its mid section is the most lush, slowly emerging from percussive origins and developing into an undulating wash of tones that splatter across the broadband like so much goopy, colourful paint. It’s downright pretty, and doesn’t fall into the sameness trap of so many organ-like drone works. As the piece persists, its tendrils slowly give way to something far more angelic, while its core continues on, providing a backbone for the closing movement. And as the tape winds to a close on a stewing bed of manipulated piano notes, one can’t help but wonder: is this the pulse we are meant to discover, hidden all this time beneath its ethereal cloak? Or, instead of finding it, has it revealed itself, now, as a parting gift for the astute listener? Or further still, perhaps is holds some clue to what the future might hold. Perhaps.