Stickfigure Records artist E. Serson Brannen wears more than one headscarf. Long recognized primarily for the one-man avant-garde electronic-music/spoken-word project fronted by his persona “The Subliminator” (which earned him Creative Loafing Best of Atlanta 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009), he has of late devoted a substantial portion of his aesthetic energies to the free-improv ensemble In Sonitus Lux, and is currently bringing The Equinox Session the protean aggregation’s second collection for the label before the public.
Brannen is the fixed quantity, the constant, in the ever-variable equation of In Sonitus Lux. (He reports that the name, Latin for “light in sounds,” came to him in a dream.) In this incarnation he performs on a currently somewhat obscure but increasingly widely-known percussion instrument known as the “hang” – basically an ultra-portable steel drum resembling a flying saucer or two wok lids welded together, tuned in this case diatonically. Both to complement and to challenge the shimmering sonorities he draws from this relatively recently developed concussion idiophone, he makes it a practice to enlist the talents of a rotating roster of collaborators, thereby enabling him to field a variety of improvisatory duos under the common designation, of which each exhibits a unique musical personality.
The Equinox Session’s particular sonic character stems from the intersection of Brannen’s gamelan-like runs and the singular guitar stylings of longtime Atlanta experimentalist Kevin McFoy Dunn, whose lengthy resume can only be skimmed here (some highlights: co-produced the B-52s’ first indy single and Pylon’s first album; issued three art-pop albums in the first half of the 1980s – available now on the retrospective compilation CD No Great Lost – and a recent online collection of new material, The Miraculous Miracle of the Imperial Empire). In 1984 the late Robert Palmer wrote in a New York Times review that Dunn “makes his guitars sound like angry animals and natural catastrophes,” and while that propensity is on abundant display in this set, more reflective strains are also to be heard. Dunn mixes it up by deploying a different instrument on each piece – namely, 6-string electric, roundneck resonator, and fretless bass – and arguably has set a sort of benchmark in yoking slide guitar to the hang, a rare combination, if not one heretofore unknown.
To attend a live performance by In Sonitus Lux – by design in permanent flux and so always a creature of the moment – is to witness audio art, original and eclectic, in process. The Equinox Session freezes in digital amber one irreproducible sample of that continuing process.
Her Eyes In The Morning
E. Serson Brannen, who has operated under the musical monikers the Subliminator and In Sonitus Lux, uses an instrument known as the hang to foster along his interest in free-floating improvisational music. The hang is a percussive instrument not unlike a steel drum, so it only takes in so far in terms of atmospherics. Enter guitarist Kevin McFoy Dunn, who likes to do anything but make his guitar sound like a regular guitar. With Dunn’s help, the three long tracks on In Sonitus Lux’s The Equinox Session are able to catch a breeze and swirl smoothly through the air. While Brannen lays the groundwork for each piece, Dunn rotates himself from one stringed instrument to the other: electric guitar on “Her Eyes in the Morning”, fretless bass on “Bump”, and resonator for “On McTell Street”. Stickfigure Records may describe In Sonitus Lux as “free-improv”, but the outcome doesn’t sound like it wasn’t composed/preplanned. If you’ve ever thought “gosh, I’d like to hear this kind of thing with more acoustic elements” while listening to 4AD-era goth, then The Equinox Session will go down nicely.
Exquisitely ethereal soundscapes predominate The Equinox Session, the second album by In Sonitus Lux (“light in sound”), aka Serson Brannen, better known as the Subliminator. Brannen plays a portable steel drum called the hang, which he describes as “resembling a flying saucer or two wok lids welded together, tuned in this case diatonically.” On The Equinox Session, the hang’s pooling rhythms are paired with the avant-guarde guitar stylings of Kevin Dunn on six-string resonator and fretless bass, among other instruments. - Doug DeLoach