Both on-stage and on record, Joel Ryan is mostly heard interacting with live musicians, feeding their input into his computer to produce distorted images of themselves. With Or Air, we can finally hear his magic without the confusion of separating the "real" sounds from the treatments. And even a single hour-long-trip with this album will enhance your future experiences involving Ryan -- be it with Evan Parker's electro-acoustic group or in various groupings with Joëlle Léandre. The eight pieces on this CD are "variations on the music of Evan Parker" -- in that they use Parker's solo sax recordings as sound sources. It requires a certain leap of faith from the listener, since the sheer diversity found among these pieces make such a claim rather hard to believe. But the source is easy to identify in at least half of the tracks, and especially in the opening "Two/Cut," a nine-minute workout in which Ryan mimics the saxophonist's famous circular breathing technique to produce a continuous flow of warped monstrous sounds with an electronic body and reed limbs. That track alone is worth the price of admission, as it exposes Ryan's art more clearly than ever before. "Or Air" and "Seidelstuckel" are equally yet differently impressive: here, the computer artist retains Parker's unmistakable phrasing but rearranges it into something that is much closer to electro-acoustic composition than real-time manipulation. In "Griot Mix" and "Shaker Mix," the source material is transformed beyond recognition and the music sinks into textural/ambient depths. They bring a certain degree of variety to the album, but they sound too close to so much experimental electronica. In terms of quiet dynamics, the closer "Oran" is much more rewarding with its delicate tongue staccati peppering a quiet, glassy drone. Despite its weaker pieces, Or Air is a remarkable solo effort.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture