Colleen is an aboundingly inventive composer and artist. For two decades Cécile Schott as Colleen has crafted welcoming, enchanting, and bewildering music. The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist’s timeless compositions make use of carefully selected tools to mold memories into transcendent splendor. The Tunnel and the Clearing finds Schott at her most vulnerable and confident, invoking contemplative and swirling organ processed through analog electronics, steady drum machine syncopations and her distinctive voice to embody breaking through the nexus of compounding transitions. On an album centered on processing the complicated washes of emotion through tribulations and revelations Colleen presents a vision of breathless clarity.
The Tunnel and the Clearing was developed over a period of transformative change. Colleen began work on the album in 2018 only to be met with extreme fatigue from a previously undiagnosed illness that all but halted her work. The following months and years of treatment and adjustment eventually led to relocating to a new home and studio in Barcelona, which was soon followed by lockdowns and ultimately the dissolution of her longtime partnership. The impact of deep reflecting on these cumulative experiences found Schott completely reimagining her compositional practices through her enduring gift for reinvention. Schott spent months in near complete silence apart from composing and ruminating on her newfound perspective through her music. Says Schott, “Never before had I felt so profoundly the power that music has, through harmony, melody, rhythm and sound itself, to express the whole range of human emotions.” The resulting seven pieces investigate the complex, at times contradictory relationship between excitement and fear, anger and understanding, struggle and triumph, all focused on a reconstruction of the self.
Colleen’s albums are unified by their employment of distinct and personal instrumentation to tell their story. From albums built around music boxes or viola da gamba to albums built around electronics, her music remarkably shares a dreamlike modern quality. From the early stages of working on The Tunnel and the Clearing Schott restricted herself to using analog electronic instruments like the Elka Drummer One, the Roland RE-201 Space Echo and Moog Grandmother synth, coupled with Yamaha organ keyboard and select Moog effects. This limited instrument selection was inspired by years of listening to Jamaican and African recordings where musicians were pushed to maximize their creativity with minimal tools. A magnitude of atmospheres are summoned from deceptively simple combinations, from the meditative pulse of “The Crossing” to the frothy cascades of title track “The Tunnel and the Clearing.” Pieces like “Revelation,” or the brisk-paced “Implosion-Explosion” respectively showcase the most diverse use of harmony and the most incisive application of production technique in all of Colleen’s catalog. Stunningly, Colleen achieves the rich emotional intricacy and the lush density of textures on The Tunnel and the Clearing through almost entirely live performance and processing.
The detailed and affecting compositions of The Tunnel and the Clearing mirror Colleen’s grappling with her own psyche. Schott elaborates “I found direct correspondences between my internal discourse, its obsessive, frantic attempts at making sense of what I could not understand, and the music I was making, with motifs functioning as questions and answers, doubts and assertions.” Clicks, hums, warbles and throbs emulating our evolving internal worlds, an “emotional noise.” A musical journey through the tunnel toward the clearing at its end. An ending which is also a beginning. “The clearing is what is always out there: a vast expanse of space, light and possibilities,” says Schott. The Tunnel and the Clearing is a work of lucid reverence, a constellation of marvels suspended in air.
Photo by Luis Torroja.
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