Philip Jeck – Cardinal
2LP/DL Touch # TO:98V – 23rd October 2015
Sometimes, the idea that things happen by mere coincidence simply doesn’t seem satisfactory. In the age of hyper-information, it seems almost inevitable that fragments from the most disparate sources will collide. And so it was that last week, I began reading Mark Fisher’s book, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. In the first few pages, Fisher, (who I now know has provided substantial coverage of Jeck over the years, particularly in writing for ‘The Wire’) frames Jeck’s work in the context of the concept of ‘hauntology’, a term coined by Jacques Derrida to explain the eerie nostalgia and uncanny sense of loss prevalent in his work. The name seemed familiar, but I was initially unable to place it, before remembering an email received a day or so before containing a list of upcoming new releases available for download.
Of course, it’s impossible for me to listen to ‘Cardinal’ without searching for the details, the ways in which the compositions evoke notions of nostalgia and a sense of loss as refracted through the prisms of theoretical discourse and personal interpretation. But ‘Cardinal’ is, however you approach it, an album steeped in evocative vibrations, a collection of instrumental works which are almost spectral in their presence at times.
Of the album, Jeck explains, "To make this record I used Fidelity record players, Casio Keyboards, Ibanez bass guitar, Sony minidisc players, Ibanez and Zoom effects pedals, assorted percussion, a Behringer mixer and it was edited it at home with minidisc players and on a laptop computer." He makes it sound so simple, and says nothing of the infinite layers the music on the resulting record contains.
It begins with a huge cathedral of sound, a shifting sonic mass which surges and swells and fills the room, enveloping the listener, to be displaced as it fades into more subtle drama. Eddying sonic mists buzz and cluster, sheltering in corners of sepulchral echoes. Time warps, speeds and slows as notes are stretched, elongated and twisted as they spin in the air.
It’s commonplace for the tracks on albums which broadly fit into the ‘ambient’ territory Jeck explores to bleed together, for the passages to be segued to form longer tracks which twist and mutate, transitioning, leading the listener on an internal journey directed by the soundtrack. ‘Cardinal’ jars the senses and confounds genre expectations: his comparatively short pieces – of which there are 13 here, many of which are under five minutes in duration – fade out or dissipate into nothing, leaving the listener to squirm through the moments of silence which separate them.
‘Called In’ – the album’s longest track by some margin at almost nine and a half minutes – finds fragments of stolen, unidentifiable, melodies scratch through an amorphous hum which at times resembles Gregorian chants slowed to near stasis, with screeds of chilling whistles and high-pitched drones making fleeting flights over the swamps below. ‘Broke Up’, too, finds spectral slivers emerging from a low-level hum which hangs like dry ice
It’s an immense work, deep, rich and evocative. The bonus inclusion of a free download of a 42-minute live recording, ‘Live in Caen’, captured in February 2015, is extremely worthwhile: while the depth and texture of Jeck’s work is perhaps best appreciated in its studio form, his live set – which dares to explore hushed tones to the point of silence in an time of perpetual noise – shows he’s more than capable of creating a rarefied atmosphere in an alternative setting.