Loula Yorke ‘Volta’ (Truxalis)


In classical poetry, volta refers to a critical turning point in the verse, usually marking a change in what the poet is thinking and expressing to the reader. Shakespeare made liberal use of voltas in his sonnets, deploying them as literary left turns that entirely alter the focus of his observations, just at the very point where you had the subject of his longing more or less figured out.

That’s how you should approach ‘Volta’, the fourth album from Oram Award-winner Loula Yorke. It represents a sudden, but remarkable, change in direction for the Suffolk-based modular musician – a stylistic pivot, a shift of focus, a turning point. 

After moving to the area in 2009, Yorke was inspired to make the live rave fare that she had been drawn to during a chaotic spell in London, but felt dispirited by the notion of creating music by pushing blocks of sounds around on a computer screen. It somehow seemed the yawnsome antithesis of the energy she wanted to express. 

For Yorke, the only logical solution was live improvisation using a modular rig, initially as TR-33N with her partner Dave Stitch. That spontaneous approach also characterised her first three solo albums after TR-33N was put on hold. ‘LDOLS’ (2019), ‘ysmysmysm’ (2019) and ‘Florescence’ (2022) were all structured from improvised experiments, and Yorke was rightly heralded as a pioneering innovator in the sprawling, tangled modular scene. 

‘Volta’ is different. It is consciously and carefully composed. Reassuringly, though, her modular system is still very much at the heart of this collection. It’s not like Yorke has suddenly discovered inspiration in the computer- based approach that she found so off-putting in the first place. Instead she has reached a sense of peace with the notion of programming her synths. It represents an interesting experiment. What if, by eschewing improvisation in favour of a more compositional approach, the very essence of what makes Yorke’s music so special is removed? Happily, there is no risk of that happening here.

Containing seven long pieces, each of these tracks is characterised by rich, overlapping sequences which, while programmed, feel like they are still given the space to evolve along their own pathways. Whereas the Yorke of ‘LDOLS’ would want ideas to arrive, flourish and be rapidly replaced, on the likes of ‘The Grounds Are Changing As They Promise To Do’ there is a sense of an unhurried unfolding. A core sequence will develop, new interventions will arrive, become entwined, and grow together. 

With ‘The Grounds Are Changing’, I found myself trying to follow each layer, like one of those newspaper puzzles where you attempt to work out which line will reach a specific destination – a futile exercise, as I continually lose the path, usually within seconds. That’s not because these tracks are confusing or unstructured, but because they are so utterly absorbing.

‘Staying With The Trouble’ is one of the best moments. It contains a central, spiralling, endlessly shifting melody which acts as a consistent anchor while everything else evolves around it. But it also stands apart for its pace. Most of the other tracks that Yorke presents are delivered at a meditative, contemplative speed. ‘Staying With The Trouble’ moves and changes much more rapidly, with double-speed, countermelodic additions attaching themselves to the core refrain and acting as accelerants. These high-velocity collisions could, on one level, feel like a throwback to Yorke’s early rave music experiments, full of thrilling, pulse-quickening energy.

Another highlight comes in the form of ‘An Example Of Periodic Time’, which again operates at a faster tempo. There’s something wonderfully antediluvian about this piece. Its rapid oscillations feel fully connected to some of the earliest 1960s or 1970s modular experiments, occupying a zone that is both playful and filled with a perpetual, wide-eyed awe of the sounds being created.

Therein lies the beauty and significance of ‘Volta’. It finds an artist completely comfortable throwing all of their usual processes out of the window, entirely at ease with learning new techniques, no matter how challenging they may be. 

I can imagine Yorke not in her Suffolk home with a modular rig, but standing at the dead centre of an early electronic music studio, surrounded by tape machines and oscillators, her head cocked to one side listening to sounds bouncing around the space. Showcasing a fearless experimenter at work, ‘Volta’ is a milestone moment in Yorke’s career.

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