Posts Tagged ‘Distant Animals’

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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Cruel Nature Recordings – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Live performances of experimental electronic work, particularly when involving an element of improvisation, can be somewhat hit and miss, and what’s more, sometimes, much of the wonder and appreciation is derived from witnessing the performance itself, as much as the sound.

This album was recorded live at Cave 12 in Geneva in 2019, when Stuart Chalmers and Distant Animals shared a stage is a document of a moment in time, and is one that explores differences and similarities. Each act occupies one side of the limited-edition cassette (of which there are just 45 copies) and naturally, a track each on the digital version, and each track contains a full performance from each artist.

Chalmers’ set is a sparse, minimalist affair. Clanking chiming notes – partially atonal, and entirely arrhythmic plink, plonk, clatter and clink every which way. It is detuned strings? Is it a glockenspiel, xylophone, or similar? Whatever the sonic source, it increases in speed and urgency, but not in musicality, and a flat chord shreds and mangles as though strumming a washboard with relentless frustration. While the performance is brimming with energy, there’s a purposeful tonal flatness to this.

At times a clattering clang, a monotonous chang of deadened notes, and a tension-building thrum that grates away relentlessly, Chalmers’ set is never comfortable, never easy, never really breaking into the realms of melodic. The relentless scrapes and scuffles scratch away for twenty-three troublesome minutes. It’s rhythmic and does build in a certain way, but it’s slow progress that’s uncomfortable. One suspects that this uneasy sensation would only be heightened during the actual performance.

Distant Animals’ set is more overtly ambient, a twenty-minute piece that centres around twisting dronescapes and elongated crawls. The layers ripple and rub against one another to create not a dissonance as such, but a vibration of frequencies.. but suddenly, around the mi-section, the storm breaks and dissipates… there is a calm. Soothing synth waves of something that borders on electroprog crossed with chilled-out electroambient. Its trajectory is very different from Chalmers’ – instead of a single, linear trajectory that works its way to a specific end point, they navigate a series of passages and movements that segue into one another to form a meandering journey, which eventually tapers to a fade that leaves you wondering if it was all a dream, and wishing you had been there.

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