MIZU Maps Terra Incognita on “Forest Scenes”

MIZU is an artist who knows how to distill the mosaic process of defining oneself. On her debut record, Distant Intervals (2023), the Brooklyn-based cellist (fka Issei Herr) navigated her gender transition while shifting from a frustrating, classically-focused practice to one that embraces agency via improvisation and electronic production. Development of her sophomore album, Forest Scenes (NNA Tapes, Mar. 22), started mere days after completing Distant Intervals, but delves deeper into the realms of self-discovery, collage, and an abstract navigation of queer spaces.

“Pavane,” the first single, was released in January with a mesmerizing video directed by Dan Silver. In the opening moments, we see a curiously-placed metallic cube in the center of a brooding forest, and a close-up of MIZU bowing her instrument with long clear nails. Her cello soars over murky and slightly menacing bass synth as the video cuts to movement artist Lili (Luyan Li) emerging from the mysterious box. She stumbles into her surroundings like a newborn fawn with her own acrylic talons, caressing detritus and seemingly in search of something. As the music morphs into hypnotic grooves and becomes more self-assured, we get fuller looks at MIZU, teasing nose-down shots and both hands on the cello until finally revealing her face. In the end, Lili finds her way to MIZU at a stream, and standing fully upright, they meet face-to-face.

While “Pavane” could have easily been the opening track for the record, MIZU bookends the album with its own “Entry” and “Farewell.” In between, she takes us on an expedition through macrocosmic soundscapes, conjuring her Western classical background and love for Robert Schumann by sampling and mirroring the form of his Waldszenen – the OG Forest Scenes.

MIZU’s work houses a gossamer sensibility akin to fellow Brooklynite and electroacoustic musician OHYUNG, or the intimate compositional style of “emo ambient” artist claire rousay, utilizing layers of multi-tracked cello, swaths of reverb/delay, and the comforting familiarity of field recordings. Despite each track offering a varying palette of atmospheres and techniques, contrast and balance are the consistent throughline on Forest Scenes; we find dulcet melodic writing paired with coarser textures, and a melding of natural/acoustic sound with processed/electronic ones.

The cello becomes an ecosystem on the intro track as MIZU tempers guttural rattling with a glistening choir of strings. Icy tremolos mingle with raucous clattering on the aptly named “Flutter.” On “Rinse,” a deep bellowing rings out like a glorious foghorn as a distant melody reaches the shore and is pushed back out to sea.

MIZU does not limit herself to any particular genre – the record dips its toes into several, ranging from experimental to tinges of folk, and toying with dance music. “The Way Yonder” is practically a song, with MIZU’s cello singing out over thumping percussive accompaniment. On “prphtbrd” (referencing  “Bird as Prophet” from Waldszenen), she collaborates with classical flutist-turned electronic musician Concrete Husband. Glitchy synthesizers sputter with glimpses of dance-y drums. It’s as though the stuttering drum loop were a felled tree in a stream – at times swept into the current and fully realized, and at others, stuck jammed between the rocks. The arrival of the beat in its entirety comes as a manifestation of MIZU’s self-interrogation, the result of having reached into these unexplored areas of the psyche to find herself, as well as discovering community in New York’s queer nightlife scene while creating the record.

MIZU -- Photo by Tanner Pendleton

MIZU — Photo by Tanner Pendleton

I wish there were more infiltration of electronic music across the album to cement its significance in MIZU’s journey. The standout track for me is “Pump;” crunchy foley sounds and lush cello are looped to create even pulses, like a bicycle being pedaled down a scenic route. Sampled footsteps and indistinguishable voices evoke an innate humanness and intimate touch – like overhearing a muffled conversation or trying to remember a dream.

During my first listen, “Pump” reminded me of A Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers At Full Speed, a 2019 book by Chris Helzer detailing flowers as seen careening down highways from a car window. MIZU’s music captures not only the essence of movement and transition, but also a gleaning of the self through noticing. Sometimes the process of change is grueling and cathartic, but a lot of the time, we wake up one day and simply notice things are different. This is music that reflects how we’re always moving away from who we were to get to who we will be.

Forest Scenes ends with the expansive, almost 11-minute track “Realms of Possibility” where MIZU lets loose on all of her abilities – emotive double stops, pulsing kick drum, ethereal sul ponticello polyrhythms, choppy bowing, swooning baked in reverb, and more field recordings. It’s a fitting conclusion to the dovetailing of vignettes across the record, and neatly packages the queer joy of being able to define and redefine yourself again and again – to tap into those parts of us that we haven’t known yet. And for MIZU, anything is possible.

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