Composer / Filmmaker / Photographer
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Seagulls

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KMAN 92.5 Tapes is proud to present the latest offering from Sunset Diver, entitled Seagulls. After his formidable tape "SD", released by Patient Sounds in 2017, cinephile and aural excavator Devin Johnson reemerges with this series of cunningly assembled soundscapes. I emphasize the spatial quality, as these songs – like the beloved films from which they are partially assembled – evoke a sense of place, a tangible fiction we can move around in. “Craving to be left alone,” the inimitable voice of Orson Welles intones on the opening track, “his soul was concentrated upon this one request; that he might enter his little room, shut his door, with the security that here, no one in the world could possibly follow him.” And we follow the figure into the seclusion of his room, all the while keeping in mind the words of geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who wrote about the co-implication and ambivalence surrounding our experience of place and space: “Place is security, space is freedom: we are attached to the one and long for the other.” But this desire for venturing out beyond the familiar, as any traveler knows, raises the possibility of danger, an exposure, and throughout the hour of Seagulls, Johnson guides us through the affective, aural experience of encounter. 

From the plunking piano and rising, melodic swells of “Lost In The Rain” to the call and response of flutes and coy vocals in “Some Sweet Day”, carried by an eddy of a drum fill reminiscent of Tago Mago-era Liebezeit, he stretches out with extended pieces like “Wolf Dust”, in which the sounds of birds, intermingled voices, a train’s brakes, and horns waft in and often just as quickly disappear, anchored by intermittent bass pulsing like a foghorn; then emerges an insistent beat, somehow halfway between boom-bap and kosmische. Voices – calling out, cajoling, reflective – enter and fade, tremolo’d guitar lines walk along, before the entrance of harp glissandos that raise us from the heat of the street. In “Sierra Madre” we find ourselves beneath a gracious shade, listening to a Latin band as the heat dies down, the voices of the singers manage to sound both mournful and triumphant, and the horns carry us slowly across another late afternoon. “Nostalgia on Dangerous Ground” evokes the ambivalence between drifting, dreamy sounds and an underlying disorder, an aural lingering through a summer rain, a time of repose beneath the awning, waiting for the weather to pass. In “Dream of Drowning”, woozy horns bleed over as the beat rolls in. Here, there is no respite, like a dream where you know you’re dreaming but can’t wake yourself… just the rocking sway of feedback swells, gasps, unintelligible lines of speech, resonant chambers blowing in the distance… no way to get one’s bearings. But even amidst, and perhaps because of this rootlessness, one finds oneself carried into moments of transcendence, calm and respite: see the descending arpeggios and sonic squiggles of “A Million Years”. Throughout Seagulls, Sunset Diver encourages the listener to embrace the drift, to get lost in the spaces evoked out of vibrations in air, and to find repose in the inevitably solitary experience of listening, whether in one’s own little room or out in the world. 

Woozy beats and moody atmospheres prop up the samples, casting “Seagulls” as a drifting noir more interested in allowing the human condition to spread out and react to its surroundings than plotting a course of action for a set of characters. And that’s what makes “Seagulls” so compelling – like the filmmakers it samples, it’s fully interested in character and tone, a combination that compels repeat listens in order to suss out your own feelings about the work. Not only that, but the film samples are not obvious at all – they don’t come out and wallop you on the noggin with the clarity of their source. They’re woven deep within the material, accoutrements to a greater and fascinating whole.
— Tabs Out
A pretty amazingly conceived, labor-intensive & highly focused project. If I had to bring up a kneejerk reference/comparison, I’d mention DJ Shadow’s early work or ‘Gyral’ from Scorn perhaps. It’s dark, atmospheric & bangin’ at once - not an easy feat to pull off. Ethereal Noir-Hop?!? Does that exist?!? Now it DOES, but it would be a gross oversimplification, as this is truly a multifaceted work. Highly recommended for cinephiles, trip hop-purists & sample-junkies alike.
— Underground Tape Review
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