“Windscale Pile No. 1” (btv111) cd/cassette
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1. Windscale Pile No. 1 Pt. 1 (5:15)
As their Soporus project ticks past 15 years and guitarist Matthew Stone and bassist William Stichter approach 40 while raising families, buying houses, and starting businesses, they’ve put together another album, once-again supported by lifelong-friend Scott Hatch’s Philadelphia-based Burnt Toast Vinyl label (the cassette version is released by the Philadelphia brewery run Crime and Punishment Packaged Goods cassette label). Soporus was founded as a side-project from their time together in the post-rock instrumental band Saxon Shore; slowly and quietly, they began to build their catalog of shoegaze-inspired, ambient drone music that has informed the core of who they are as musicians and as humans. Windscale Pile No.1 follows their debut ep, Atómové Elektrárne (2005), and their full-length, 24,110 (2008), on BTV, alongside a slew of digital releases and compilation appearances as well as a handful of soundtrack projects that all form a body of work that is both tightly crafted and widely varied; a chronicle of their explorations of sound and technique.
Thematically, Soporus is informed by ideas of memory, family, and humanity’s attempts to harness nuclear power. Yes, nuclear power–and in particular, the tightrope walk of calmly harnessing potentially disastrous reactions at nuclear power plants–has continued to provide the duo with inspiration, springing from a childhood in the Cold War era and central Pennsylvania roots in the shadow of Three Mile Island. Windscale Pile No.1 is no different; the title refers to the 1957 fire at the reactor facility in northwest England – Great Britain’s worst nuclear accident, and the titular tracks show Soporus at their most elegantly composed (“Pt. I”) and generative (“Pt.II”). “A Clear View of Three Mile From On Top of Governor Dick Tower,” a spare and haunting solo guitar piece, describes the sightline from near Stone’s childhood home to the nuclear facility south of Harrisburg, PA, inspired by a New Year’s walk with his daughter, gazing upon Three Mile Island from the mountainside at sunset. “Ahmadi-Roshan” is slow-moving, noisy and melodic and the track is named for the assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist whose death at age 32 left a family behind. “An Elegy for Voyager” is a subtly glacial drone evoking Stone’s personal sorrow as we near the end of the lifetime of the Voyager mission, knowing that the greatest achievements of humanity will be drifting through space, alone and silent, for an incomprehensibly long time. The descriptions and comparisons may seem extravagant, but the music hangs right with them, inviting the listener to pause and take a moment of immersion and contemplation.
Matthew Stone and William Stichter have been making music together since they were kids. Together, they stumbled through early teenage indie rock bands, learning instruments, making tapes, and playing basements while coming of age in the mid-nineties DIY underground music scene, and later made records and toured the world with instrumental act Saxon Shore, all the while continuing a variety of art-, space-, and just plain rock projects with each other and friends. Partway through this lifelong friendship and collaboration, they formed Soporus as a side project to explore and extend the subtle and spacious interludes they were developing as an aspect of Saxon Shore and other bands’ sounds.
Stone and Stichter count guitar and bass, respectively, as their main instruments, and each has developed unique playing techniques to utilize them in the service of atmospheric space and swelling waves of sounds. They began these explorations as tiny embellishments within the context of a variety of bands throughout their careers; from cello bow experiments in indie rock outfit Somerset (one of Burnt Toast Vinyl’s earliest bands) to the many-layered improvised guitars of dreamy art-rock ensemble Reels of White Softly Flow (also BTV). These skills flourished as they helped push instrumental band Saxon Shore’s sound into epically cinematic aural landscapes in a series of well-received albums as well as live shows throughout the US, Asia, and Europe. As their reverence for ambient music grew during the same period (they count The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid and William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops as formative influences), it was only natural to form Soporus–the name comes from Latin: “to lull to sleep”–in the early 2000s to specifically focus on this aspect of their musicianship. Currently, their talents remain in demand: Stichter plays bass in Philadelphia band Cape Wrath and Stone has a synth-pop project called Williams Shift with Saxon Shore drummer Stephen Roessner. However, they continue to return to Soporus as a constant touchstone and outlet expressing the music that is closest to their hearts.
Soporus has continued to rely on the DIY community spirit developed in their youth; nearly everything is recorded at home and mixed and mastered by Stone, while live performances typically feature vital contributions from projectionist Michael Stichter, guitarist Stephen Hoffman, and bassist Matthew Thomas. A designer and artist by trade, William Stichter is responsible for the visual aspects of the presentation, and even hand-printed Windscale Pile No. 1’s packaging in his screen printing and letterpress studio. Taken together, Windscale Pile No. 1 is a portrait of Stone and Stichter’s lives–intimate and personal, yet ambitious and elegant–lives lived immersed in making music and art, by themselves and constantly connected to their community.