As obvious as this may sound, the years run way faster as one grows older. When Biota announced the release of Fragment For Balance, my delight in receiving a new bulletin from the collective “after not so long” was soon replaced by the mild shock of realizing that their previous outing Funnel To A Thread had been published in 2014. I wasn’t paying attention to all those months flying away (to paraphrase another title from the group’s discography).
Even worse, this period was rendered heavier by two major losses in Biota’s universe. In 2015, visual artist Joy Ann Froding left this planet following the successful surfing of an ocean wave; in 2018, multi-instrumentalist Charles “Chuck” O’Meara (formerly Vrtacek) suffered a heart attack while he was cutting wood to warm his winter. In the sadness, it is somewhat relieving to note the natural ambience of these occurrences, presuming that Froding and O’Meara were in a comfortable place inside when the call from nowhere came. The album is dedicated to them, and the artwork commemorating the pair on the accompanying booklet – a flower and a bird embedded in unique Mnemonists shades – nearly caused this writer’s tired eyes to well up. That ear-gracing piano inevitably puts the soul in “still here with us” mode; Chuck was, and forever will be, a certified Biot.
Every single snippet of the multitude of sketches, proposals and fully fledged visions represents a piece of fertile ground for sensible roots. Yet the process of absorption doesn’t really happen through the listener’s mind, exploiting instead the most unconventional features of sympathetic resonance. There’s always been a touch of magic in William Sharp’s slight defacement of arrangement and equalization, be it a chiaroscuro of off-key echoes or the enhancement of quietly intertwining arpeggios. Throughout the 26 (!) consecutive tracks comprised by the program – duration from 0’38” to 9’48” – the achievement of a flawless amalgamation of tunings, melodic intelligibility and aural daydreaming remains at the core. The instruments shine brighter than ever, with particular regard to guitars (Tom Katsimpalis and Mark Piersel) and violin (David Zekman). They seem to trace coordinates and paths to places of blinding light amidst the hand-woven textural patchworks and gentle superimpositions informing the orchestration.
Apropos of that, flashes of enlightenment are born from the melting of a larger number of voices (including Kristianne Gale’s apparitions, a singing mermaid in a sea of wistful refractions). Keyboard constructions totally deprived of preset futility lie at the basis of revealing harmonic disseminations, Gordon Whitlow’s accordion and Hammond organ strengthening the sonic tissue with typical wisdom. Also notable is the role of Randy Miotke, his trumpet and flugelhorn supporting the contrapuntal constitution, and its various transmutations. Larry Wilson’s drums emerge in unexpected spots, attributing hues of temporal non-existence to otherwise regular rhythmic cells.
And so on and so forth, one would have to conclude. It’s been decades by now, yet attempting to describe the essences emanated by Biota’s garden still makes me feel stupid, or useless, or both. Nevertheless, the sensation of understanding a little morsel every time – of the music itself, of the fight against big-mouthed superficiality, of the painful impossibility of communicating with lesser levels of perception – is incomparable. In less than ten minutes, a track like “Walking Is Missing” teaches much more than the millions of words spewed by cretins most everywhere.
When that packet from Colorado materializes, my gradually greying beard doesn’t matter anymore. All it takes is sniffing the cover’s scent, observing once again the profound art of human beings who do not accept commands, or foolish indications, by anyone. And, of course, spinning the disc without putting the finger on the whys and the whos. Just intuiting the actual reasons of aliveness, and envisioning our future merging with the meaningful consequences of the acoustic laws.
Or, as good ol’ Chuck would have it, “learning to be silent”.