Chris Ruffoni - Solarphones  (CS ThemThere Records)

Chris Ruffoni’s ‘Solarphones’ can be taken two way. Firstly, you can just listen to the music and take it at face value. The album consists for two 22-minute songs. Each one consists of, what sounds like, stringed instruments being strummed, plucked, and hammered. These aren’t abrasive sounds, far from it. Sections wouldn’t have been out of place in Stanley Kubrick’s 1750s period epic Barry Lyndon. The melodies are graceful, captivating, but there is an ad hoc, almost ramshackle, vibe to them. Once you’ve heard one you get the impression that you won’t be hearing it again, and if you do it won’t be the same. Then this brings up to the second way to experience ‘Solarphoes’ to understand how the music was created and recorded.  

At its heart, ‘Solarphones’ is the intricate sound of solar powered instruments devised, and created, by Ruffoni and John Robertson-Dwyer at Vortex Studios, Huddersfield. Each instrument is powered by a small solar panel that allows the chaotic mechanical system contained within bespoke wooden enclosures, each containing 7 tuneable guitar strings. Each instrument plays a random note based on the amount of sun light. Ruffoni and Robertson-Dwyer devised each instrument to only work when in direct sunlight, meaning that there is no battery or capacitor to store energy. This means that the only time to hear the music is when the instruments are working. The intensity of the sunlight means that the performance will never be repeated.  

The recordings, effectively field recordings, of the performances were recorded in West Yorkshire in fields, woodlands, and near reservoirs. Throughout the there is a constant bleed from the natural world. Sheep baa, birds tweet, insects fly near the microphones. These sounds ground the recordings not in a sterile studio, but in our world. They give them a living, breathing feeling so they become far more than just a piece of music, but a piece of music that is interacting with the ‘real’ world.  

After playing the album on loop for longer than I care to disclose, I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t listen to ‘Solarphones’, you indulge in it. The music is so rich you savour it. Each note, tone and vibration are so luxurious stay with it until it has rung its last. This is an album that can either get you through a busy afternoon at work by blending into the background or can utterly consume you, by delivering intricate melody after intricate melody while you contemplate your place in everything as you wind down in the evening. NR