Conflux Coldwell – Music for Installation

Posted: 13 January 2023 in Albums
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Christopher Nosnibor

Coldwell’s own notes which accompany this – truly epic – album explains and articulates it best, when he writes ‘This new retrospective is certainly not your typical album. Each track is almost an album in its own right! The material sees CC at his most experimental, stripped back, noisy and immersive. Following on from last year’s Music for Documentary Film, this collection gathers together some of Michael C Coldwell’s sound art work and music written for exhibition and gallery contexts.’

This is very much one of the benefits of the digital format: there is no restriction of duration on account of data capacity. Time was when physical formats restricted the running time of a release, with a vinyl LP optimally running for around forty-five minutes but having the capacity to squeeze in about an hour, with CDs being able to hold seventy-two minutes and while a cassette could – precariously – take two hours, no-one released a two-hour single cassette.

Conflux Coldwell’s collection of installation works is immense, and with a running time of around two-and-a-quarter hours, it’s in the realms of recent Swans albums. While it’s by no means a brag, I’ve endured longer, notably Frank Rothkamm’s twenty-four-disc, twenty-four-hour Werner Process, and am also aware of Throbbing Gristle’s legendary 24 Hours cassette box set, but the point is, Coldwell has really made the most of the space available to him here.

I sometimes differentiate albums as being foreground or background, and Music for Installation is very much background, the very definition of ambient. That isn’t to say it’s uninteresting or unengaging. It’s simply a vast set of field recordings and sound collages that make you feel as if you’re in a certain environment. Unlike the aforementioned Swans albums, which I find are difficult to listen to because they require a commitment of time to sit with them and focus, to actively listen, Music for Installation is a very different beast which works while rumbling on while you’re doing other things. And as an experience, this very much works.

The fifty-five minutes excerpt (!) of Remote Viewer is exemplary. Passing cars, scrapes, drones, the sound of metal on metal, clanking, indistinguishable muttered dialogue, and extraneous sounds that range from – possibly – the rush of wind to the sound of feet gently passing on creaking timbers, all sit side by side and overlap in various shapes to create a latticework of real-life founds the likes of which you probably would ignore if you even noticed them at all under normal circumstances. Of course, if this is an excerpt, where’s the rest? It’s the kind of immersive soundwork that could run for hours and that would be perfectly fine.

The live performance of ‘Dead Air’, which runs for an album-length headline performance is superb. It’s testing, but it’s also magnificently executed. The sounds and textures are balanced, but the overall sound is gloopy. The result is a piece that’s creepy, evocative, and dissonant, and built around wailing whistles and pulsating drones that coalesce intro their own organic rhythms, drawing together elements of Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle to conjure a dark, dingy soundscape.

‘Dismantle the Sun’, running for fourteen minutes feels concise in comparison. It’s barely there for the most part, the most ambient of field recordings. It’s hard to identify any of the individual sources, but again, there are rhythms that emerge from the rumble off passing cars and the whisper of the wind, and the piece transitions both sonically and spatially as it progresses, at times evolving from a whisper to a howl. One feels a sense of movement, which in turn creates a sense of disorientation, although the voiceover detailing ‘solar oscillations’ in the closing minutes provides a certain grounding.

The final brace of compositions, ‘Alternating Current’ and ‘The Specious Present (How Long is Now?), which have a combined time of around ten minutes feel like barely snippets or sketches in comparison to the other three immense pieces, but what they lack in duration, they compensate in depth, being richly textured and showcasing some interesting beats and conjuring some dark, confined spaces. And for all its vastness, Music for Installation is quite a dense, claustrophobic experience at times – and it’s a quite remarkable experience, too.

AA

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