Distortion Hue

Vinyl LP edition of 300 out February 5, 2021 on Hands in the Dark Records

Hands in the Dark presents Distortion Hue, American composer Byron Westbrook’s follow-up LP to 2017’s Body Consonance, his previous LP for the label. Where its predecessor focused on gesture and movement, this new record is grounded in catharsis and gut emotion. Its ten tracks of tape-manipulated electronics present a more raw side of Westbrook’s work, with grainy and damaged textures, walls of feedback and non-metered pulses. The album shows a wide range of expressiveness, capturing at times the deep anxiety of the present moment while also presenting flashes of hope amidst chaos. With a nod to rock minimalism as well as to his mentor Phill Niblock’s sonic material approach, Distortion Hue is heavy in weight; a complex and layered deep listening experience.

Release text by Tristan Bath:

Despite sitting atop a pile of near-finished recordings and new live performance-based pieces, the renewed anxieties and dread of March 2020 saw Byron Westbrook’s search for his next record reaching back. Feeling unsatisfied with recently recorded ideas as the right next direction, he unearthed a number of synth sketches on tape from 2014–2016 previously written off as “too off-the-cuff”. Within these, the composer rediscovered the raw energy at the heart of his more syntactic experiments – such as 2017’s Body Consonance. In opposition to the refined gestural complexities of such recent works, these shelved sketches burst with a somatic substance instantly cohesive in the context of this anxious year. “In revisiting this material and feeling its resonance with the moment, I immediately had clarity for how to complete the recordings as a whole record,” Westbrook explains, “I set to it, and the result is Distortion Hue.”

Byron Westbrook created his newest album in the wake of a period focused on live performance, and full of fruitful invention in Los Angeles since moving to the city in 2018. His practice rooted in multimedia live settings, Westbrook plunges deeper than ever into the emotive power of his audio toolkit on Distortion Hue. These electrical currents flow into bubbling blasts of expressionist textures, free from melody and meter to capture a full spectrum of emotion. Fuelled by our tumultuous moment in history, Westbrook reconnects with the sheer colossal power of his gear and the epiphany squall of American minimalists such as the late Tony Conrad or his mentor Phill Niblock. The album’s sound finds its DNA in Byron Westbrook’s own love for the sound of an electric guitar’s overdriven feedback passing through the air, something he could never quite reach himself as a naturally ‘clean’ guitarist. Only opener “Point of Saturation” contains actual sounds of recorded guitar (processed via granular synthesis), but the album’s sound edges closer to rock amp roaring than any of Westbrook’s previous work, confronting cresting anxiety with synthesized riffing. Massive bursts of doomy horror spring forth from ‘Heavy Weather’, rising to the challenge of a period fenced in by angst. “Somehow I end up getting closer to the results I’d like from a guitar by intuitively listening and patching the synthesizer.”

While the album draws heavily from spontaneity and instinct, Westbrook’s editing and selection process remains highly focused across these ten tracks in 35 minutes. Out the other side of this half-decade process emerge distilled pieces like ‘Refraction Haze’ with dabs of warm light piercing through a cold and lumbering darkness, or conversely the viscous, anxious rhythms submerged beneath ‘Tunnel Visioning’. Distortion Hue rejects perfectionism, utilizes anxiety, and embraces intuition, contorting electronic experimentation into something freshly emotive. Stemming from a moment defined by its synthesized realities, Westbrook is nurturing the electronic composer’s palette into unpredictably human direction.