Tapes and Topographies is the project of Dallas based artist Todd Gauthreaux. The third release for this ambient project, Signal to Noise has a lush, spacious electronic ambience and is populated by luminous textures and various evocative samples. Deeply intimate, Signal to Noise feels like a very personal sonic diary that touches on relationships and close family relations. In spite of the electronic sounds, there is a sculpted warmth here that envelops the listener.
“Answered in an Echo” really sets the mood for the album. A floating, cotton like drone spills from the speakers as a sample of children’s voices populate the aural landscape. Brief fuzzy textures appear amid slow moving, sparse melodies. “Rain in Our Room” has a drone that sounds like playing the rim of a glass. It is accompanied by various textures and another beautifully delivered sparse melody. It has a deeply intimate melancholy to it with flares of warmth and abiding safety. “An Illustrious Career” begins with piano and has this almost unsettling high-pitched tone. This juxtaposition, however, does not create and ill-at-ease feel but rather makes the track feel more organic. Nothing in life is ever truly perfect or calm or untouched by something imperfect. “An Illustrious Career” gets the balance between dissonance and beauty perfect and it’s just magnificent.
“Painted Bird” has a cinematic quality to it with slightly fuzzy swelling synth which has the feeling of an organ deep in its tonality. There is little variation in the melody here which is good. It hypnotizes and washes over the listener, giving time for contemplation throughout the length of the composition. “Resplendent” flows naturally out of “Painted Bird” with a lower tone swirling about, rising and falling. The sounds of children’s voices populate the piece and lend an innocence to it. “In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last” has a warm tone over piano that is both melancholy and inviting. There is a longing here that becomes expressed in splendid strings. Perhaps, this is a cello coupled with a viola or violin. It’s stunning whichever instrument is being used.
“Wiretaps” is flowing with an aural river of deep and abiding drones. Sounds of radio frequencies dot the sonic landscape off in the distance. The build here is subtle but worth every second of it’s slow climb. “All the Ports are Empty” really changes the tonality of the album. It begins with an organ type melody that has a Rhodes feel to it. Simple synth melodies play opposite the larger melody in the foreground. A sample of seagulls and the ocean then rise in the mix and it really is a perfect moment on the album.
“Signal to Noise”, the titular track, rumbles into the speakers with a deep tone awash in fuzzy edges. Elegant synths play under the flow as samples dot the soundscape. At about 2:09, synth voices surprise as they come into the mix and then a fullness begins to build. “Both of Us, Regardless” feels like a triumphant and bright finale to Signal to Noise. Sonic waves rise and fall as bright tones appear here and there. The least melancholy piece on the album, this track really does give a hope to the listener as they leave this beautifully constructed musical journey.
Signal to Noise is the ambient sleeper of the year. Gorgeous at every turn, the compositions found here are sparse, beautifully constructed, careful, and emotive. Tapes and Topographies constructs a masterful work, moving from cinematic moments to spare elegance that envelops the listener in contemplative ease. Todd Gauthreaux brings to the table a sensitivity to sound and texture that creates thought worlds that inspire the imagination.