Justin Varis is an American musician and composer who currently resides in Los Angeles. Inspired by the rich
and varied history of musique concrete, Varis has recently been pursuing minimal, single instrument composition
– in this case, the piano. The artists offerings, both under his own name and as Claudia, have featured on
numerous compilations and on labels such as Frozen Elephants Music and Audiobulb Records. Varis is joined
here with Kevin Ponto, though little information is given as to how large his role is here.
Mountains begins with ten long seconds of silence and this is apt, since at times, the music within this EP length
release is as much about what is not played, as what is, and those opening moments of nothingness serve to
focus the mind for what is to come.
A composition, simply titled F, introduces Mountains and Varis treats the listener to a melodic piano refrain which
could form the beginning of a very tuneful ballad. This straight path to song is soon left behind however and the
artist instead takes strong and confident strides into unexplored terrain. Varis chooses to manipulate the almost
careless-sounding notes into something else, something far more deliberate.
Working with piano and with the ambience created by sound waves reflecting off surfaces and into the
microphone’s diaphragm, Varis edits and manipulates the audio until near destruction, encouraging the listener to
appraise each moment afresh. At first, the notes feel almost too jarring and the mind seeks to collate them into
pattern, but to do so would be missing the point, so it is far better to relax and enjoy the performance. Once one
gives in to passive listening, complex patterns and organic randomness fit together much more fully. Musique
Concrete is a familiar and much respected influence cited by many musicians, but seldom does an artist properly
encapsulate the character of what one imagines those French pioneers of sound were striving for.
Attempts at highly conceptual work such as this can all too easily fall flat on their face, but Justin Varis’s
measured approach pays off and the artist gives rise to a work which walks a line between melody and sound,
this is true abstract composing and it is compelling.