Kali Malone's 'Does Spring Hide Its Joy' Is a Beacon of Possibility

BY Chris BrysonPublished Jan 18, 2023

For Colorado native Kali Malone, finding the right tuning and harmony is a way of life. At 16, she met Swedish composer Ellen Arkbro at a New York house show. The two bonded over their shared passion for music studies, expanding into niches like harmonic theory and arcane tuning systems. An invitation to visit Arkbro in her hometown of Stockholm led Malone to relocate there entirely, immersing herself in the city's experimental scene and the hidden knowledge that lay waiting.

Evolving interests led Malone to the pipe organ, the centrepiece of her Organ Dirges 2016-2017 and the lauded The Sacrificial Code, where she patiently linked calculated slabs of mournful, billowing drones. In Stockholm, Malone involved herself in its DIY community and academic music institutions and got a job tuning organs, reinforcing the applied side of her electroacoustic composition education at the city's Royal College of Music, providing the foundation for the groaning, shimmering, buzzing river that animates her new album Does Spring Hide Its Joy.

Using tuned sine wave oscillators to sculpt the LP's three hours, Malone deploys frequencies that seem to undulate into oblivion. While certainly not the first adaptation of Malone's methods to other instruments — her discography to this point consists of an array of acoustic and synthetic ingredients – this collection might be her most potent concoction yet. 

Does Spring Hide Its Joy is Malone's first album on Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic Organ label. In his main band, experimental doom/drone metal outfit Sunn O))), O'Malley erects forbidding monolithic pillars that rise and crumble with shifting chords. As one of Does Spring Hide Its Joy's two featured collaborators, his electric guitar's saturation, overtones and distortion provide fullness to Malone and cellist Lucy Railton's mutating circuitry.

Formed during 2020's distressing spring within the Berlin Funkhaus and MONOM's empty concert halls, the album's title hints at its ruminative aura of eclipsed hope amid the unknown. Across three hour-long minimalist compositions incorporating classical, electronic and avant-garde elements – all named after the LP and distinguished as "v1" to "v3" – the trio grows like one organism of warping metal and winding waveforms, with a deep resonance that gives the ethereal beast a body.

Designed with Railton and O'Malley's styles in mind, the music is described as "a study in harmonics and non-linear composition with a heightened focus on just intonation and beating interference patterns," allowing "subjective interpretation and non-hierarchical movement" in its frameworks. Further developed as a sound installation and eventually at live concerts, the record's three variations of the same score showcase expert interplay through real-time ebb and flow, giving it a shrouded sense of emotion, mystery and elusive internal logic that instills it with living energy, haunted space and periodically blurred identities. 

Malone uses strict structures, introducing barriers to see if certain emotions, experiences, and expressions will emerge, a personal process that offers covert pathways to self-awareness. She's noted how different tuning systems affect certain body parts and emotional landscapes and meticulously sets her piece's parameters, approaching them emotionally and expressively, using art as a coping mechanism. 

This practice is reflected in the music's meditative character, with the instrumental mélange evoking greater melancholy and ominousness. Cello dashes in sighing increments on "v1," flanked by feedback and wavering electrical streaks. Ghostly guitar awakens portentous shadows, cello draws hypnotic figures across buzzing bedrock. The album falls into a stylistic lineage akin to La Monte Young's work in sine waves and sustained tones, with modern production and textural detailing enhancing its immersive qualities and contrasts. "v2" scans softly melodic lines floating through unstable miasma; like much of the LP, it's unsettled but unusually comforting. From ever-changing harmonics, all tracks navigate wistful, sombre valleys and tense, turbulent passages. Ascending from uneasy silver strands and its predecessor's DNA, "v3" charts new routes through similar territory – vital, fluidly brooding, surging, swelling and subsiding sonic strata, suspending time before descending into black. 

Pauline Oliveros' deep listening explorations inspired Malone to understand the challenges durational music presents regarding pain and acceptance (a tightrope balanced well here), and presumably, the openness needed to traverse the latter's threshold. While this record will challenge some, adventurous listeners will need no backstory to appreciate Does Spring Hide Its Joy's dark, alien majesty. Despite complex construction that in the wrong hands can drain music of potency and impact, Malone, Railton and O'Malley sculpt otherworldly soundscapes and craft microtonal realms worth return expeditions, where timbres and harmonics flicker, ripple, scrape and hum — always converging and diverging, Does Spring Hide Its Joy is a beacon of possibility. 
(Ideologic Organ)

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