Lying low

Monday 30 March 2020

It’s awful when people describe music as ‘relaxing’. We know they mean to be nice, but it’s just so wrong. It’s an experience made from hearing recordings, that no longer requires listening. The only truly soothing effect I’ve had from music is from not paying attention to it, or knowing the recording so well that I fall into its shape and flow without consciously registering the sound. The so-called relaxing effect of listening to music is not that it blankets the senses, but opens up a mental space.

A little while back I wrote briefly about Jamie Drouin’s album Ridge. I wasn’t satisfied with it. Thinking back over it, that clean sound, “a little too neat and untroubled” came across to me as sounding too simple in its certainties, in a way that rebuffed interpretation or contemplation. By contrast, his new release Meander – released under the pseudonym of Liquid Transmitter – is a much more rewarding listening experience. Six short pieces are made from overlapping loops of material, combining synths and amplified sounds as before. The loops are not immediately apparent and the sounds seem more interesting than before. A simplicity in approach yields an understated complexity in sounds and structure, never easily settling into a recognisable form. “Early forms of ambient electronic music” gets a shout-out in the notes – strangely, it sounds less derivative and more like the real deal, the genre at its best.

I’ve been listening to a lot over the past week or so but haven’t felt like writing much. It’s mostly older stuff, reacquainting myself or catching up on what friends have been up to. People have been emailing me with new stuff; I won’t have the excuse of not enough time to get back to them for long. There’ll be more writing soon. I’ve also been sorting through my own music and releasing it online – more about that later. I hear this disturbing edge in my music, which doesn’t seem right for today. That will pass – we don’t need to be soothed in perpetuity.

Every now and then for the past few months I’ve played Torsten Papenheim’s release on Tanuki, Tracking – Racking. This would be the opposite of relaxing. It doesn’t necessarily provoke anxiety, but it sure is tense. What’s worse, for two pieces so rigidly gridlike and unyielding in their structure and content, I can never remember precisely how each one goes. All that’s left is that sense of tension. Tracking shuttles back and forth between minidiscs in a compressed pingponging crosstalk of indiscernable noise; Racking steadily pounds on an acoustic guitar for a similar length of time. What may pass as music is what squeezes through the cracks, surviving tendrils shaken free.