Simon Whetham – (II)ntolerance

Posted: 10 April 2022 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Kohlhaas Records – 22nd April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Simon Whetham’s notes which accompany (II)ntolerance – the sequel to his 2017 collection, InTolerance – are informative, albeit perhaps more so when reading between the lines: ‘InTolerance consisted of a selection of combined scenes and activities in various global locations. Through the process of constructing the piece, it became clear that it was as much about my ability and fortune to be able to travel and cross borders with relative ease as it was about the situations I was able to document. (II)nTolerance is a sequel and a response to InTolerance. It is a personal reaction to the global pandemic and its wide-reaching effects through suffering, fear, misinformation as much as confinement and curfews. It is a personal response to the (somewhat incorrectly named) United Kingdom leaving the European Union and all the resulting events that are continually unravelling.’ He continues: ‘Travel has been limited when not impossible. Cultural exchange is only possible through mobile, online, remote communication. Tactile contact is feared. Families and friends have been divided physically, mentally, politically.’

The pandemic but a block on everyone’s lives, but everyone was affected differently, and while I struggle to find sympathy for those bemoaning their inability to take their 204 kids on their half-term skiing holidays and the like, touring artists who depends on mobility for their livelihood, it’s a different matter, especially as that transit and a shifting geography is integral to the creative process. Reading Whetham’s notes, it’s clear that his obstacles have not been purely pandemic-related: The ‘United’ Kingdom has degenerated into a cesspit of division where not only ‘tactile contact’ is feared, but so is anything from ‘outside’. Never has this felt like a smaller, more isolated, island, and not just geographically.

Tolerance is something many of us – mostly those of us who wanted to remain – can now only dream of, as we hide our faces behind our hands as we peep at Twitter and Facebook, where it’s bordering on a virtual civil war.

Whetham describes (II)ntolerance as a personal response to all of this, and ultimately, that’s the only real response any artist can make. The idea that we’re all in the same boat has been proven untrue, for while we all endured the pandemic, everyone experienced it so very differently: home schooling while working from home was, for example, in no way comparable to living alone or in a shared house while on furlough. Similarly, the effect of Brexit for a container driver, versus that of, say, a hedge fund manager is simply not comparable. But this in itself is an issue: increasingly, it seems people have become unable to relate to experiences and situations which differ from their own.

As an artist, of course, one can really only represent oneself, and hope that through the personal there is an element of universal therein, and on this level, (II)ntolerance succeeds, containing as it does fourteen abstract compositions that state nothing explicitly, and yet convey so much implicitly.

There are a number of pieces that form sequences, namely the ‘Angry Earth’ pieces and the three ‘Kinetic Readymade’ pieces, which give the album a sense of cohesion and thematic unity (while making a small nod to avant-garde greats like Marcel Duchamp). And (II)ntolerance is an album of movement, of turbulence: the first piece, ‘Angry Earth Seething 1’ sounds like a harsh deluge of rain, and the lashing precipitation sets the tone for a stormy sonic journey, riven with growls and gulps and crashes of static and ominous drones and clicks and stammers.

(II)ntolerance marks a shift from field recordings and a focus on geography to shift the focus inward in a response to a shrinking environment, and the result is claustrophobic and uncomfortable. ‘Moving Sentry 2 – Angry Earth Seething 3’ is a gurgling mess of abrasion, while ‘Reception – Windpipes’ whips and gurgles in a fog of phase. Oftentimes, such as on ‘Angry Earth Seething 4’, Whetham conjures a dark, gravel-shunting grind of uncomfortable noise, while ‘Kinetic Readymade (Turbine)’ embraces all shades of difficult, dominated by churning, scraping noise – and as a whole, (II)ntolerance is not an ‘easy’ album. It’s noisy, with serrated edges and low-end growlings that unsettle the intestines. A difficult album for difficult times.

A

Simon W

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