Posts Tagged ‘Abstract’

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.

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Front & Follow – 25th November 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Longtime Aural Aggro faves Front & Follow have delivered the third in their series of truly immense Rental Yields compilations, with another twenty-five tracks of remixed works which showcase the community spirit they espouse as a label and among those in its orbit.

They describe it as ‘a multi-release collaboration project raising money to tackle homelessness in Manchester… Inspired (if that’s the right word – perhaps ‘motivated’…) by our current housing system, the project encourages artists to steal (or borrow, nicely) from another artist to create their own new track – in the process producing HIGH RENTAL YIELDS. Over 100 artists are now involved (the spreadsheet is fun), each one tasked with creating a new track from the sounds created by someone else – we are then collating the tracks and releasing them over the course of the next year.’

Some would describe the project as ambitious, others as simply crackers, and it’s likely both in equal measure, but this is why we love F&F. That, and the fact that they seem of have a knack for attracting and releasing interesting artists who exist far beyond the peripheries of any kid of commercial radar (or even most alternative radars).

This compilation really does make the most of the medium: unrestrained by the limits of vinyl, cassette or CD, and has a playing time of about a week. Yes, I exaggerate, but the point is, each contribution is the length it needs to be, or the artist feels it ought to be, rather than cut or constrained, meaning that while a fair few pieces sit around the five minute mark, the Decommissioned Forests vs Pulselovers rendition of ‘Rental Yields’ runs for nine minutes and forty-four seconds, ahead of the ten-minute workout that is IVY NOSTRUM vs The Snaps Jar’s ‘AND MONEY LESS’ and a few other six- and seven-minute monsters.

But what is time, anyway, and what’s it for? As much as it’s a measure of time, it’s a tool by which lives are ordered, limited, constrained, controlled. The vast majority are paid work by the hour, not by output, and time on the clock is not your time, but your employer’s. You don’t own your time, and you don’t own your space, and you give your time to some company who profit from your time and output in order to pay for a roof over your head, a space to eat and sleep, for the profit of a landlord or a bank you owe tens, even hundreds of thousands.

How often do you hear people shrug about their shit jobs saying ‘well, it pays the rent’. Imagine lying on your deathbed, reflecting on a lifetime of drudgery to say ‘I paid the rent’, while your landlord’s spent their life living it up in restaurants and on overseas holidays and celebrating their success because you’ve paid their rent too.

Audio Obscura VS Secret Nuclear’s ‘Vacant Period’ opens the album with an apposite sample from a TV show discussing gross and net yield before embarking on a glitchy, flickering journey of droning industrial Krautrock, and paves the way for an extensive and magnificent-curated collection of variant forms of ambience. Pettaluck Vs Giant Head’s ‘Dot to Dot’ is disorientation yet soothing and hypnotic – and fucking strange. But we like strange, and Front & Follow provide plenty.

If it’s a long, long listening journey of crackling stating, looming darkness, bleeps, bloops, and extraneous noise intercut with snippets of radio, film, and TV, and ultimately forges an immense intertext of sources.

Sometimes it’s swampy, eerie, tense, others it’s quite mellow and finds a subtle groove, but Rental Yields is unyieldingly brilliant, both in terms of range and quality. And you really can’t go wrong for a fiver – the worthy cause is simply a bonus.

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Room40 – 2nd September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a sign of the times that this is being released only as a download: labels – especially niche labels like Room 40 – know their audience and know their budget. The time has now passed when a connection with a label with ensure a physical release, and theres something sad about this. Still, better a virtual release with a label’s backing than no release and / or no label backing, and ROOM40 have some respect in their field.

Dark Over Light Earth is very much a release that highlights the intersection of different media, specifically visual art and music. As Steve Roden explains of the album’s origins, ‘dark over light earth was created for the final weekend of the exhibition moca’s mark rothko, which featured 8 rothko paintings from the museum of contemporary art los angeles’s permanent collection… i initially made a list of every color in each of the 8 paintings, to generate a score. i recorded myself playing the score on harmonium and glockenspiel – the notes and their order pre-determined by my color notations; and the tempo, duration, and overall feel, improvised. some of these recordings were then processed electronically with filters.’

It’s fair to say, then, that this is a quite specific, technical, and theory-based work, and it’s not immensely accessible either. Granted, it features violin and amorphous synth drone, both of which are fairly familiar aspects of contemporary experimental music, and there are moments which are genuinely magical, and musical, as they skip from here to there with a lightness and ease that’s magnificent.

But so much of the album – which consists of a single track with a running time of nearly thirty-five minutes – is discordant, difficult, atonal, and it’s hard to get a handle on. The individual elements are comparatively tuneful, but when placed together… Picked dissonance flits over dolorous droning synths and mournful strings – the violin so often sounds sad, but all the sadder when it scrapes sinuously, against the note, against the grain.

The sparser passages are minimal to the max; stuttering scrapes and picked notes forge tension against not drones, but tense scrapes and scratches while notes drape in fatigue across the rough and barren soundscapes.

Listening to Dark Over Light Earth prompts me to revisit not only Rothko’s catalogue, but his biography, which reminds me that he committed suicide at the age of 66. So much is made of the ‘27’ club, that the suicide rate among older people, particularly artists, tends to be overlooked. Hunter S. Thompson, age 67; Ernest Hemingway, age 61; Robin Williams, age 63; Tony Hancock, age 44: it’s all to easy to bracket the psychology of suicide as an affliction oof young males, but this masks the broader issue.

Just as there is nothing in Rothko’s work which indicated darker underlying issues, so Dark Over Light Earth isn’t anywhere near as dark as all that; it’s simply a work of quiet, but troubled, contemplation.

It is, unquestionably, a fitting soundtrack to accompany the viewing of Mark Rothko’s work abstract, overheated, yet austere, simple yet confrontational in their stark minimalism, and in that capacity, it’s magnificently realised.

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gk. rec. – 13th August 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Since taking control of his own release schedule – in addition to various releases via various labels – Gintas K’s output has shifted from rivulets to cascades, with this nature-themed album being just one among countless releases, live performances, exhibitions. soundtrack and compilation appearances so far this year, and, not least of all, Lėti in May, released on venerable experimental label Crónica.

There’s little explanation behind Mountains, runlets, caves & cascades, beyond a selection of quotes from HP Lovecraft and the detail that the album’s six pieces were ‘played, recorded live, at once without any overdub; using computer, midi keyboard & controller’ in 2020, and one suspects Gintas has a hard drive bursting with such recordings just waiting to be edited and mastered to form unified documents of his tireless output.

The first five pieces form the larger work that sits under the album’s overarching title, numbered one to five. They’re sparse, minimal, echo-heavy, like wandering around in a vast cavern while droplets fall into the subterranean lake that occupies the bottom, and who knows how deep it may be, how many tunnels are filled with millions of gallons of water that have run down through the ground and into this naturally-carved warren of rock-lined corridors beneath the ground.

In places, barely perceptible glimmers of sound, like bat sonar, jangle in the upper reaches of the audio spectrum. I’m reminded of the cat repellent device in my back yard, and I wonder if to some, these passages would actually appear as silence – or if for others, like my ten-year-old daughter, they would find the pitch unbearable and have to run from the room covering their ears. Quiet gurgles and trickles are the primary sounds on ‘Mountains, runlets, caves & cascades #3’ and I find myself feeling altogether calmer, picturing myself in a pine woodland with steep banks. I picture in my mind’s eye local scenery like Aysgarth Falls and Ingleton Falls and find myself at ease – but this being Gintas K, there’s disruption afoot, and blips and squelches zap in seemingly at random to remind us that this is digital art, and the fourteen-minute ‘#4’ marks the full transition into digital froth and sluices of laptop-generated foam.

And so it trickles into ‘#5’ which brings more bleeps and blips and jangling and some high-pitched rattling that for some reason makes me think of seeing footage of milk bottling plants in the 80s – back when milk came in glass bottles, and I trip on this trajectory of nostalgic reverie until the arrival oof the unsettling final track, the eight-minute ‘eastern bells’ that’s a slowed-down yawn of sound, metallic reverberations ringing out into the silence, echoing in the dark emptiness in ebbs and flows, like a conglomeration of sounds, drifting in a breeze.

Mountains, runlets, caves & cascades is a supremely abstract work, and while it’s not a huge departure for Gintas K, it does represent one of his softer, gentler, sparser and less frenetic works. It’s by no means an album to mediate to. But it is overall fairly sedate, and it not only allows, but encourages a certain quiet reflection.

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Expert Sleepers – 25th August 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Fallout 4 is, as the title suggests, the fourth album in Darkroom’s Fallout trilogy.

Darkroom have been going for more than twenty years now, and have built up an extensive catalogue centred around fluid ambient work, which they’re keen to point out ‘stretches the definition of the genre to its limits in many directions: from quiet, introspective and naturalistic through celestial and melodic to intense, abrasive and synthetic.’

In presenting three longform compositions, Fallout 4 affords the collective to fully explore all of these elements.

As the accompanying notes explain, ‘Darkroom’s music has always been played not programmed, with a focus on human interaction and capturing the magic of live performance’, and the first two pieces hark back to the last performance of their 2012 tour. ‘It’s Clear from the Air’ is hypnotic, rippling, mesmerising, low, undulating drones providing a subtle low end to the textured interweaving synths that overlay subtle yet complex rhythms.

It bleeds into the twenty-five minute ‘Qaanaak (Parts 1 & 2)’ and immediately the tone is darker, denser, with a grumbling low and needling pulsations that create tension within the suffocatingly thick, beatless smoggy atmosphere. You find yourself lost, in suspension, somewhat bewildered as the tones twist and change. Electronic flares whip and lash as stuttering beats emerge through the relentlessly nagging pulsations, and continue to shift and mutate to a broiling, bubbling larva as booming bass tones surge and swell. The rhythm grows in urgency, but it’s muffled, constrained, which heightens the experience of a sense of airlessness and entrapment and as much as the throbbing oscillations are indebted to Can and Tangerine Dream, their abrasive edge hints at the uneasy, wheezing synth grind of Suicide.

The third piece, ‘Tuesday’s Ghost’ is perhaps the most conventionally ambient’ of the three, and is certainly the most overtly ‘background’ as is swims and floats and chimes along fuzzy lines of slow decay and loose, vague forms that have no shape, rise and fall. There is a discreet linearity to it, as it gradually, and subtly builds in depth and density, and it’s here that it become clear just how essential that human element is to Darkroom’s work – that sense of musicians bouncing off one another and understanding one another through intuition. There is no substitute for it, and you simply can’t programme the dynamics of form. It’s this intuitive, natural fluidity that breathes life into the compositions, and in turn, it’s this sense of life that the listener connects to and engages with. Fallout 4 may be ambient at heart or by genre… but it’s also far beyond the frontier of ambient.

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Southern Lord – 25th February 2022

For many, the days of the longest, hardest lockdowns are, it would seem, behind us. And yet the shadow of the pandemic continues to hang long as dark; it’s hard to move on and truly put it behind us when life continues to be anything but normal; signage and masks and booster reminders are the new normal, and we face a new normal carrying scars of a personal nature, each and every one of us. Successive lockdowns, periods of isolation, have all affected us in different ways, and we’ve all suffered some form of trauma or psychological damage in living through conditions we’re simply not equipped for.

For many creative types, working through the experience has manifested in new artistic output. There’s something about channelling that anxiety into something, even if not direct or specific in addressing the issue, that helps to somehow minimise, contain, or otherwise manage it. Thurston Moore’s latest project, like so many was born out of a lockdown environment, and it’s an exploratory work, in so many ways. A series of instrumental guitar pieces recorded during the summer of 2020, it’s a document of, as the liner notes outline, a period where, ‘as the world confronted the pandemic shutdown and as the people of good conscious stood up against the oppression of racist police oppression and murder.’ It goes on to ask, ‘How much screen time does a parent allow a child? How much screen time does a child need to realise a world which has the means to coexist as a community in shared exchange?’

This feels like numerous issues, simultaneous but separate, have collided to inspire this album, and raises as many questions as answers. Moore is clearly placing his flag alongside Black Lives Matter, and it struck me – and surely many others – that the protests should have taken place when the world, pretty much, was in lockdown. How could this be? This was a moment in time when protest felt impossible. In fact, anything felt impossible. But the murder of George Floyd was a trigger and it marked a tipping point of something far, far bigger for so many. This was about centuries of oppression and division. The scenes aired over the news channels, globally, were electrifying. But how does this relate to monitoring the screen time parents should grant their children? Surely it’s less about the amount of time, but parental control, and the extent to which parents grant their children exposure to current affairs? That said, it’s something I’ve wrestled with myself. As a child, I had no interest in anything on the news; my own daughter, aged 10, is genuinely interested and has her views on our prime minister, our government, and the pandemic, and more. While I feel a duty to protect her from scenes of violence and endless report of rape, murder, abduction, and brutal crimes against women and children, I also feel that a certain degree of exposure to ‘the real world’ is beneficial, just as I’ve come to see that many computer games encourage problem-solving and eye-hand co-ordination. Screen time isn’t all bad if you can get over the generational differences. But.. but… no doubt, it’s a conundrum.

Screen Time offers no answers. As is often the case with instrumental works, there is little to be gleaned from them in and of themselves, and the titles offer little by way of interpretive guidance. The only thing that really struck me about the titles, in fact, is that several share their with cure songs: ‘The Walk’; ‘The Dream’. ‘The Upstairs’ feels like an allusion to ‘The Upstairs Room’ (the title of the 12” EP version of ‘The Walk’; but then again, all of the compositions are ‘the’ something: ‘The View’, ‘The Neighbour’, and these reflect the shrunken worlds we inhabited during this time: four walls, the view from the window, and the TV as the window to the world. There was nothing else but to look, and to ponder. Screen Time is a work of ponderance. It doesn’t have to be coherent, because coherent thought isn’t the state of the world right now. Show me someone who has a firm handle on everything that’s going on and I’ll show you a bullshitter. No-one knows anything, and we’re all just fumbling, stumbling through.

Many of the pieces on Screen Time are short, fragmentary, and sparse, only half-formed, but evocative and atmospheric: ‘The Walk’, a minimal piece consisting of a heavily chorused and echoed guitar trickling a cyclical motif for a minute and fifty-one seconds is exemplary. Elsewhere, ‘The Upstairs’ is a haunting piece led by disorientating, discordant piano that tumbles along.

At times reminiscent of Earth, or more specifically Dylan Carlson’s more recent solo work, Screen Time borders on ambience in its slow, soft unfurlings. The final piece, the nine-minute ‘The Realization’ is almost hypnotic; slow, with deep, resonant notes that reverberate and hover while harmonics chime and soar.

As a listening experience, Screen Time is pleasant, absorbing. I like it. But what does it say? It speaks for Thurston Moore alone, just as any such release can only speak for its composers and performers. That’s ok. When stitched together, in time, all the voices will combine to present the full picture. For now, what simply matters is that each voice keeps adding to the tapestry of documenting the present, a time unlike any other.

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Kranky – 18th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The thirteenth Pan•American for album for Labradford’s Mark Nelson since 1998’s eponymous debut is a magnificently mellow affair. Written and recorded in isolation in the summer of 2020, it’s billed as ‘a suite of solo guitar instrumentals accented with lap steel, harmonica’, and it feels contemplative, and evokes in some sense the strangeness of the time.

In many respects, the summer of 2020 feels like a dream that happened a lifetime ago, and it’s sometimes hard to credit that it even happened. Lockdowns began around the globe around the middle of March 2020, and with them came an air of unreality. By the April of 2020, it’s recorded that around half the world’s population was under some form of lockdown restrictions. The world seemed to have literally stopped; everything was on pause. Admittedly, it was more paused for some than others. For many, lockdown meant being unable to work as all but the most essential services and provisions were shut down. It was a strange spell which demanded rapid adjustment; many had to adjust to reduced income and time on their hands, highlighting the eternal dichotomy of being time-rich or cash-rich – although under capitalism, those who generate the wealth rarely have the luxury of choice. And so to find days stretching out ahead of them without the daily grind, people found new things to do, new ways to be.

We didn’t all have the luxury of time: the balance tipped. The ability to home work and home school collided to create an explosion of stress and relentless activity while in a state of elevated pressure. All of this simply goes to show you can’t have it all, and you can’t win. I found myself struggling to reconcile numerous articles about ‘the great pause’ with my own experience of barely having time to piss while the whole family was living, working, and schooling under one roof for months on end.

But for all that, there were some good times, times outdoors, times spent on walks, flying kites, and throwing frisbees in fields, occasional moments of downtime reading a book with a cold beer in the back yard.

The Patience Fader feels like a soundtrack to these moments, and the tile feels like an encapsulation of that slow-creeping tension that said that however pleasant those moments of calm, they would be but brief, and all too often, thoughts would creep under the door to slowly gnaw at that tranquillity. The gnawing isn’t a part of the album’s listening experience, which is soothing, sedate.

Nelson’s guitar twang, bathed in reverb, hangs in space and suspends time as each note pauses and reflects on its direction, on what it means, on its purpose. You feel as if you’re watching the notes drift out into emptiness, street and paths bereft of people, roads bereft of traffic. ‘Harmony Conversation’ encapsulates the sedate mood, an almost lazy-sounding drifting leisurely and you can picture basking on a balcony looking down through a heat-haze at the stillness of it all on a hot summer’s day. It’s nice, and it makes you wish you were there.

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Room40 – 14th January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

One of the many wonderful things about music is that it has no limits, and no constraints. There is music to be found in anything and everything, and music can be made my anyone, anywhere, anytime, with anything, or even nothing. Steve Roden’s choice of instrumentation on Oionos is noteworthy for being quite unconventional, as he explains: ‘The audio was built from field recordings and small “poor” objects such as tin whistles, toy harmonicas, and the like. These “instruments” suggested by the museum of musical instruments in Athens, where the proper instruments take up most of the museum, but there is a wonderful display case in the basement with musical toys, religious objects, and other sounding devices not considered musical instruments.’ These instruments and objects combine to conjure a magical, mystical soundscape with overtly musical sounds contrasting with less overtly musical sounds and woven together to create something that occupies a unique sonic space.

In popular western culture, we’ve come to understand only the narrowest of definitions of music, which for many is represented by an album consisting of a number of ‘songs’, bite-size pierces which are tightly structured and subject to conforming to certain parameters, including rhythm, and suchlike. Even many ambient works, which delineate many of those mainstream conventions, are created within limitations; these are compositional factors, imposed by the creators, rather than being significant of true musical limits.

With Oionos, Steve Roden frees the music, presenting a single, continuous piece with a running time of one hour, one minute, and fifty-five seconds. Time was when the CD format placed a time constraint of seventy-two minutes on a release, but technology has evolved, and the duration of this piece feels entirely natural, as if the music has run its course to a satisfying conclusion by the close.

The composition is, in many respects less concerned with time, than with place. As Roden writes on the album ‘Oionos was created for the exhibition The Grand Promenade, in Athens, Greece. The exhibition took place in various archaeological and historical sites in central Athens, creating a situation for contemporary site specific works to be in dialogue with their historical surroundings.’

Although the location was integral to the album’s inspiration, it’s less integral to the listening experience when taken out of the context, and the music featured is, if not necessarily ambient in the most conventional sense, it is very much abstract, and also very much background sounds rather than music one actively listens to. But zoning in and out is a pleasurable experience, which perhaps serves to highlight the multifaceted nature of the sounds. Metallophone-like notes chime and ring, seemingly with an almost random notations and the loosest of rhythms, against a backdrop of scrapes and drones, while sounds like wind gusts and lapping water fill the space in the background. While the different elements conglomerate throughout, by half-listening, one finds oneself becoming aware of them individually at different times, and you find yourself experiencing the recording differently at different times as you tune into and become aware of the different sounds, textures, and tones.

As a whole, Oionos feels like something living and breathing, as if the sounds in combination have taken on a life of their own – and in many senses, they have, and they merge together to form a shifting, pulsating whole. It’s unfamiliar, but not eerie despite its otherness; there is a certain calm that radiates throughout the duration.

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Cruel Nature Records – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those albums where the approach to its creation is based around process and technical elements, and the title is not an abstract concept, but precisely the theme around which those technical aspects are centred. Specifically, as the accompanying notes explain, the album uses ‘a custom tuning system’ ‘based upon multiplications of the frequency of the human heart whilst sleeping’.

Or, indeed, not sleeping, as we learn of the composer’s own battles with ‘extreme sleep loss – waking as often as every 15 minutes throughout the night for a period of almost 3 years’ and how ‘the work encapsulates the haze of the perpetual tired’.

It’s relatable, as a near-lifelong insomniac myself, with my sleeping difficulties beginning at the age of five. And not sleeping is both traumatic and debilitating, and sleep deprivation can do awful things to the mind. The paranoia and hallucinations are real. ‘The Cats are Hiding and So Am I’ is a title that hints at this disconnection from the world that goes beyond the mind.

And so The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest is a curious compilation of sounds and sources, fleeting flickers of extranea in the mix beside powerful strings and dramatic drones, at times bordering on neoclassical, others something more industrial, others still folksy, and yet others still approaching ambience. In drawing on an array of sources, and then adapting and mutating them by means of overlays, adjustments of tape speed, this is very much a collage work, and the meticulous attention to detail – the way the sounds interact with one another, the slowing and the reverberations that contrive to create a rare and unique depth and density – is clearly the work of an artist who’s at once focused to the point of obsession, but also has found that point of detachment whereby the creation of such art becomes possible.

The result is incredibly powerful, in that it speaks to those who have occupied this space, where sleep and waking merge into a continuously blurry, bleary, fugue-like state. At times wistful, melancholic, or reflective in a more uplifting way, and yet at others bleak, The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest feels very much like an exploration, a work which strives to navigate this semi-real, half-lives, partially-cognisant existence.

‘6am, The Bathroom, Screaming’ is dark, ominous, heavy beats echo thunderously and captures the essence of the album, and the experience perfectly. No explanation as to why, what, if any story there is behind it, and it may be that the reason is unknown, but the piece transitions from bleak claustrophobia through a spell of ambient tranquillity before blossoming into a passage of soaring, string-led post rock with conventional percussion. The head is not so much a shed, as a cavern of chaos. The whiplash static storm of ‘The Hallways at Home’ is a synapse-blitzing crackle of electricity and fizz of pink noise over which gusts of nuclear wind drift with a desert emptiness. ‘Mealtimes at the Madhouse’ is Chris and Cosey in collision with Nine Inch Nails, a disorientating and hypnotic sketch built around a pulsing synth bass and thudding beat, while the final track, ‘Psalm of the Sleepless Child’ is an extended composition of dark shuffling and rumblings: it’s bleak, and feels very much like the soundtrack to being lost in an anxiety dream from which you can’t wake up, before veering into very different and positively Krautrock territory.

The Frequency Of The Heart At Rest is by no means restful, but is a work of rare intensity, one that prompts palpitations through its woozy, off-kilter other-worldly disorientations. It’s a restless jumble of tension and fatigue, where nothing makes sense, and it’s truly wonderful.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO305 – 28th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.

The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’

I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.

Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.

There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.

As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.

AA

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