Richard Chartier's Pinkcourtesyphone dials in another disquieting episode of ambient tristesse from his Los Angeles zipcode. Described as "a sonic love note of smudged ink", the latest in his much-adored series pursues a classically Lynchian, L.A. aesthetic into thee most noir headspaces, maintaining an unshakeably elegant posture whilst revealing an elusive, aching emotional sehnsucht behind its stoic, glassy gaze. 'Sentimental Something' unfolds in five segued sections across three tracks, drifting from the dark and into the half-light across 20 minutes of 'Fabric Illusion/High On Neuroticism', whereas 'Tears of Modernism' is given to queasy gut feelings that never quite resolve themselves, and 'Casual Encounter' turns into 'Formal Encounter' via ten minutes of lurking tone clusters and stereo-drift chords precipitating a rainfall of screwed percussion that could be the soundtrack to a scene from Inland Empire slowed by 400%. We love this stuff.
The music, with all its 1950s and '60s kitsch trappings and imagery, is no less complex and just as rich and beautiful as his self-titled work. Regardless of the format, these three compositions continue PCP’s penchant for generating hazy landscapes of frigid tones and obtuse worlds of sound.
It almost seems that, on comparison, Sentimental Something is an even more disconnected, cold sounding record from a project that has fully embraced that sound and aesthetic. A piece such as the side-long "Fabric Illusion/High on Neuroticism" does this, but also with an additional sense of intensity. Heavy, rattling bass appears throughout, countering the panning, spectral expanses of sound and noise. Everything seems to be engulfed in a (pink) fog of intensity before Chartier scales the piece back to a more restrained and depressive mood, leaving lingering melodies and a tasteful amount of dissonant crackle.
"Tears of Modernism" (featuring frequent collaborator Evelina Domnitch on theremin) first begins with an understated passage of droning electronics, but it soon builds to a piece of similar heaviness to "Fabric Illusion." It retains the same lost-in-the-mist ambiguity and isolation as well, but there is a darker, further reaching sense of heaviness to it. Haunting bits of melody drift through the vapor, which just adds an additional haunting layer to the already ghostly mood generated.
The fog lightens some on "Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter," allowing Chartier to bring string-like melodies to the forefront, along with an uncharacteristic bit of pseudo percussion to add an additional layer of variation. Throughout it has a slowly meandering feel to the piece (which I mean as a compliment) before the mood is upset by some shrill, phantasmagorical outbursts of noises that pierce through. It is only in the closing minutes that the female dialog sample, a staple of the Pinkcourtesyphone aesthetic, appears.
Richard Chartier has been prolific as PCP since its inception, even more so than the work he puts out under his own name. The project may have appeared almost fully formed with 2012's Foley Folly Folio, but the distinct style and intentional sonic ennui have become more and more polished with each release. The aesthetic and atmosphere may differ between PCP and his main project, but his ability to work from the most skeletal of sounds to compose something so multifaceted and beautifully nuanced is peerless.
Few other projects in sound art and ambient music show the sonic scope and thematic poignancy of Richard Chartier’s pinkcourtesyphone. The highly prolific Los Angeles-based sound artist came out with the latest word from this project, Sentimental Something, towards the end of August through the always excellent Important Records, and since I have been something of a rabid fan since I first made the acquaintance of Foley Folly Folio, I had to get my hands on it. If you were not sated with the release of the fine Divertissement, Chartier’s latest collaboration with William Basinski, you are probably more than ready to take the plunge into the chasms of pinkcourtesyphone’s haunted heart.
pinkcourtesyphone, a bit less minimal and more musical than Chartier’s work under his own name, is a thick, susurrant, creeping ambient soundscape of tones from synth modules and sampled cinematic dialogue, as well as other heavily-processed sounds. Details like eerie vocal samples and the not-entirely-sweet somethings of guest vocalists like Evelina Domnitch that frequently crop up in this world do more than just fit with its heady and luxuriously sinister atmosphere. What makes Chartier’s work as pinkcourtesyphone so deliciously necessary is the way that it reflects the arguments of different theoretical outlooks on modernity while referencing a too-beautiful, plush aesthetic rooted in the past. Cold beauty that only appears perfect at first glance often conceals strange monsters at its peripheries. This romantic, spooky duality has much in common with Leyland Kirby’s releases as The Caretaker, a key influence on Chartier, but it also reminds me of the films of Jacques Demy, in which what superficially appears to be naive fantasy meshes with implicit critiques of the societal values underlying that fantasy.
Sentimental Something is something of a departure from the usual style of pinkcourtesyphone in that it finds a middle ground between the lowercase minimalist style of A Field for Mixing and other works Chartier has released under his given name and the syrupy atmosphere I’ve come to expect from this series. Compared with its precedents, this new album is just pure chilly bleakness– all slowburning hums and hisses, and none of the sample-heavy interludes of encrypted commentary that intensified the spell of Foley Folly Folio and Description of Problem. Moreover, the album is surprisingly short, with just one epic (“Fabric Illusion/High on Neuroticism”) and two shorter pieces (“Tears of Modernism” and “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter”) bringing it just under forty minutes (perfect for the limited vinyl pressing, though). Nonetheless, these stylistic shifts have perhaps made this the most easily digestible release Chartier has put out to date.
Indeed, Sentimental Something could stand as a great introduction to Chartier’s somewhat intimidating body of work. The timbres are, as always, gorgeously layered (look out for Evelina Domnitch’s theremin on “Tears of Modernism”) to create a meditative and sensual aura of dread that recalls Rapoon and Nurse With Wound, yet is far more genuinely intriguing than the countless dark ambient releases that repeatedly fall back on stock materials borrowed from pioneers such as them. And the sinuous, growling ostinato melody of “Casual Encounter/Formal Encounter” is as eerily resonant a construction as Chartier has ever crafted. If you’re deep into dark ambient sounds and extreme minimalism, you’ll hopefully already have this on your listening log for the year. I can’t recommend it enough.
In his novel, The Ticket that Exploded, Burroughs made the claim that language is a virus. As a virus, inextricably bound were the notions of self-propagation and destruction. In order to grow, a virus must occupy a cell and the cell must detonate. Language is virulent. It’s transmitted quickly and relentlessly and language occupies us; it changes the way we conceive of our relations. Thought becomes binarized, channels of expression are narrowed into single-purpose conduits. As the virus consumes us, it leaves behind a scaffolding, a structural regime. What can be done? How can we be benefited by the extirpation of illness in our psyches? Well, several have proposed a what. Dada has long been in the business of disrupting the moribund by refusing typical modes of communication: the asemic, the ungrammatical, the neologistic, the random, the shocking. Burroughs himself used those same techniques. However, there is also an option that is less jarring: opting to lull the body out of a viral perception. Such a technique can be found in the work of Richard Chartier, as Pinkcourtesyphone, and especially so in his newest release, Sentimental Something.
If we operate from the position that all of our assumptions stem from habituation, an inuring of the mind to what has become codified as typical—conditions, relations, experiences, reactions—then we are actually given two options to shatter the monotony: havoc or meditation. Chartier’s typical methodology is one of restraint. Unlike the shocks produced by Burroughs or his Dada progenitors, Pinkcourtesyphone saturates his collage with a superabundance of signification. Gradual, glacial, slow, syrupy. His work demands attention, sorting out the elements and determining what part they play, what new forms they’ve taken on. Dada is fast; it muscles its way through the gates of perception and straight into the consciousness, but the approach Chartier takes here is gentle, understated, devoid of anything sweeping. As a listener, one must lock into this eerie milieu in order to undo the indoctrination of a sonic vocabulary.
The compositions are dense, but they never belie that density, or rather we never discover it. New sounds don’t just drift in and out, but are latent in the first seconds of the piece, legible earlier and earlier after repeated listening. Abyssal yawns, creaking synths, phantom strings, warped theremins, muted beats, static, water bowls, uncanny swirls and hums. These are all components, but the pieces exist far in excess of their baser elements.
Fortunately, Chartier’s arrangements are not just conceptual, but succeed based on the merit of their haunting and evocative approach to ambience. “Tears of Modernism” completes its opening stretches as Eva Domnitch’s lachrymal theremin begins to wend and wind its way through expansive and menacing hollows of sound, calling to mind a wailing soul lost in a cavern. Sneaking in through the bottom of the mix is some beat so miniscule it’s impossible to tell what instrument could have possibly borne it. The great success of Sentimental Something and Pinkcourtesyphone’s work in general is the degree of listener agency, allowing the auditor to draw out and refocus these sounds through close listening.
The closing cut “Casual Encounter / Formal Encounter” is probably the most clearly dynamic and the most passively engaging. Not nearly as quilted and integrated as the previous two, a churning, factory-style guitar line sinks into the foundation of the song and a bass thud finds its way to the fore of the mix. It’s a faintly dark odyssey as voices, soft and distraught, begin to fight through the gauzy production. Uncanniness is central to these songs, as they conjure half-memories, half-associations, lines of thought that may have been your own, but could just as easily belong to someone else. They’re impressions of impressions, gathered in those strange, clean, public spaces where voices and noise are transformed by the sheer expanse.
The album ends with a woman’s clear voice: “Thank you, but I’m never coming back.” Her heels click off into the distance and we are stranded. We should not do that to Sentimental Something. This is not an album to put on at a party nor an album to even listen to with friends. It’s something personal, something enveloping, a journey into the disintegration of our own structural biases, a challenge to listen fearlessly and openly and mindfully, and a way to realign ourselves to the signs and symbols that swarm us. When the phone rings, we should pick it up and listen.
Los-Angeles based sound artist Pinkcourtesyphone (Richard Chartier) explores a dreamlike approach to reductionist sound art on his new LP Sentimental Something. Described as a “sonic love note of smudged ink” on his website, Sentimental Something traces familiar territory for Chartier whose countless installations, recorded sound works and releases via his own LINE label document some of the most striking minimal digital explorations of recent years.
Sentimental Something offers listeners a hazy, occasionally unsettling and frequently melancholic soundscape in three parts, ably assisted by Evelina Domnitch’s haunting theremin accompaniments on ‘Tears of Modernism’ which, clocking in at 8:32 is the shortest piece on the LP and about as close as we get to a single. ‘Fabric Illusion / High On Neuroticism’ and ‘Casual Encounter / Formal Encounter’ sandwich Domnitch’s theremin excursions between lengthier, contrasting audioscapes which seamlessly link together to complete the record.
Although it’s easy to draw connections to the hauntological explorations of Leyland Kirby, repetition and degradation of musical vignettes by Greg Gorlen or the deep mechanical emptiness of David Lynch and Alan R. Splet’s Eraserhead soundtrack, the thing that strikes boldly about Pinkcourtesyphone’s Sentimental Something is it’s deep consideration for the listener. This LP explores the act of listening by interrelating spatiality to silence and perception to focus, relying on precise arrangements of sounds which are just on the cusp of recognition – bell tolls? field recordings? air vent drones? computer glitches?
Every part has been slowed down, drawn out and reduced to it’s core only to be further orchestrated through digital manipulation (decay, reverb, delay) with the end result of hooking the listener smoothly into Chartier’s unique sound word. The audio snippets are mostly always interesting but at times Sentimental Something is a little too sedate and a little less entertaining than 2014’s Description of Problem (also featuring a collaboration with Evelina Domnitch amongst others). Sentimental Something is a record which demands time and attention from the listener, ideally paired with a decent set of headphones to pick up the full details in each piece but it’s well worth the listen and certainly stands up as an important document in the field of contemporary minimal-digital composition.