Colin Andrew Sheffield (sampler) and James Eck Rippie (turntables) began playing music together in Dallas, Texas in 2000 and released their debut LP, “Variations,” a year later. They separated soon afterwards, relocating to cities 2,600 miles apart; and though they continued with solo work, they remained inactive as a duo until recently. During this hiatus, Sheffield stayed busy dealing antiquarian books and running his Elevator Bath label; Rippie became an accomplished sound mixer for major motion pictures and television shows. And yet the collaboration between these two friends of a quarter century has always held a special significance (as Francois Couture of AllMusic stated: “The level of understanding between [these two artists] … commands respect”). So, in 2015, when the two found themselves both living in Austin, a reactivation of their improvising duo was a happy inevitability.
“Essential Anatomies” is the fruit of the pair’s renewed efforts. Comprising four pieces originally issued on limited edition cassettes and now widely available for the first time, the double LP is an experiment in audio collage and instant narrative composition. The main tools are sounds from the past: commercially available recordings manipulated and sculpted into a medium with inherent potential. Unlike their plunderphonic ancestors and contemporaries, however, Sheffield and Rippie place a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and a kind of musicality. Their work is surprising and challenging, but it is infused with their keen sense of structure and listenability.
Elements of sound art, drone, glitch, and noise emerge from their altered samples. These sounds have been stripped of any extraneous cumbrances, leaving just the crucial components. The parts that remain, the essential anatomies, form the basis for an ongoing abstract dialogue between two artists with a remarkably developed affinity. The results capture dual streams of consciousness, coursing with a description of nonrepresentational beauty.
“[B]est described as abstract plunderphonics. Sheffield and Rippie use samplers and turntables to sculpt the past into new forms that defy instant categorization; suffice it to say that the old has never sounded so new.”
– Richard Allen, A Closer Listen