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Cellist Oliver Coates’ Towards the Blessed Islands

Towards the Blessed Islands

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The sound of a perfectly bowed cello is one of the most gorgeous in all music. As a cellist, Oliver Coates isn’t going to turn his back on his instrument’s fundamental beauty, but he wants to provide new contexts for it.

He achieves his goal, in part by conjuring up unexpected combinations, in part by manipulating the recorded acoustic. Both are central to this collection’s opening track, The Room is the Resonator. Here, his close-miked cello wanders slowly through a limited number of pitches while a harmonium huffs and puffs sweetly under, over and between. Both instruments are set against a separate recording of a Berlin railway station at night. The results are densely hypnotic, a blend of electronica and minimalism.

Coates is more aggressive in Iannis Xenakis’s Kottos, where his cello sounds variously like a low-flying aircraft, a swarm of angry bees and a kids’ cartoon character. This is music that hits you in the pit of the stomach, but mostly Coates aims for something more mellifluous. On his version of folk-singer Roy Harper’s ‘Another Day’, his multi-tracked cellos provide a soft, warm bed on which the fragile voice of Chysanthemum Bear (true!) can luxuriate. This kind of aesthetic approach risks drifting into elevator music, but there are enough facets to Coates’s virtuosity to keep the attention from wandering.