Asterisms, Matthew Cardinal’s debut solo album, creates audial desire paths, not necessarily conjuring anything concrete in my mind’s eye but moving like a current—or a river—that I’m compelled to be swept up in. Asterisms is a pleasure to listen to, and I’ve found it to be a welcome companion in ever-shifting contexts.

Cardinal is based in amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) and is best known for playing synthesizers and bass in the band nêhiyawak, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Polaris Prize for its full-length debut album, nipiy. Seven years in the making, Asterisms is the culmination of one aspect of Cardinal’s practice, during which two parameters emerged organically: tracks are completed in one sitting, and they’re titled after the recording day.

“I did my best to do the tracks in one sitting, because a lot of the time it’s hard for me to just go back and keep recording after,” he explains. “So that’s almost a necessity. Whenever I found time to record, and I liked the track, I would export it. I didn’t know what to name them, so I put the day. After a while, I realized I was making a weird sound journal.”

On the album, the tracks are reconfigured according to their original chronology: the first was recorded in 2013 and the rest between 2017 and 2019. Cardinal had known for a long time that he wanted to release a solo album, and he’d been working away at tracks. “It was a goal for a while to get this music together and have it be an album. I was working on these songs that I realized felt good together, so I wanted to build on that.”

This process led to Asterisms, which was released on the Arts & Crafts label in October 2020. Asterisms is fluid in character, with the origins of specific sound elements obscured through processing, as are the personal contexts they were created in. Yet this is more than dreamy, ambient, shoegazer music: it is a sound journal without narrative structures or directives. Instead of being presented with a perceivable sequence of events, listeners are invited to simply experience that journal.

In an interview in the fall of 2020 Cardinal told me about various inputs and setups he utilized. His Moog synthesizer is prevalent on the album. “I started recording more in the past three years, because I started getting more into the modular synthesizer,” he says. “It’s a workflow that’s really comfortable for me. It can be a bit of a hassle to set everything up but I think it’s a bit easier to be inspired—working with a modular synthesizer—because it’s so flexible and so personal. You can make it fit your needs. But some tracks were recorded without modular at all.”

“Dec 31st” used a minimal setup, with his guitar and pedal fed into his laptop. “Sep 7th” includes a poem, whose words Cardinal cannot remember; the spoken words were processed through a modular synthesizer and sequenced to create a distorted robotic drone almost unrecognizable as words. For “Jan 8th,” which suggests gently rolling waves, Cardinal says, “I recorded myself breathing in time with the music and with effects.”

Videos accompanying several of the tracks can be found on the Arts & Crafts YouTube channel (warning: some videos contain strobe effects). The videos were created by Stephanie Kuse, a graphic designer, photographer, and video artist who has toured with Cardinal and nêhiyawak, doing projection accompaniment for performances. The Asterisms videos are partly influenced by Cardinal’s nighttime photography, and the videos’ fluidity and abstract dreaminess enhance the flowing experience of his music, which leaves any narrative element up to the listener to project. Kuse’s videos are also without narrative and thus follow the flowing aspect, enriching the audial by giving it a visual form. (Kuse also filmed, lit, and edited a performance Cardinal did for Wonderment, a festival of live electronic music and sound installation presented by the Garden City Electronic Music Society in Victoria in the summer of 2020.)

Asterisms is available in twelve-inch vinyl as well as on Cardinal’s Bandcamp page and streaming platforms. (A gentle reminder that if you are financially able to support artists’ work rather than just streaming, please do so.)

Cardinal leaves the meaning of Asterisms open to individual interpretation, making space for the multiplicity of experiences that make up our collective lives. “I try to make the music I like to listen to, that I want to hear.”


Photo of Matthew Cardinal by Heather Saitz.
Audio: Feb 21st (2019) Composed and performed by Matthew Cardinal.  This track also appears on the Musicworks 139 CD. 

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