A Journal Of The Dark Arts
antigravity. a cathedral of dust. timelessness. texture. a sickle moon; a passing breeze. an ache. a thought. a sigh. a cry. a crackle. a resignation. degradation.
i guess i’m floating.
There is often talk in electroacoustic circles of gesture vs. texture. The ElectroAcoustic Research Site defines gestures as “concerned with action directed away from a previous goal or towards a new goal; it is concerned with the application of energy and its consequences; it is synonymous with intervention, growth and progress, and is married to causality.” Gesture tells a story, it is concerned with plot. Texture is the surface noise + crackle; the medium as the message.
Recording is a funny thing, and i don’t think enough work is going into understanding the effect it is having on our psychology. Let us not forget that recording technology is only roughly 120 years old, certainly a blip in our evolution. Who’s to say what impact having the ability to capture moments, slow them down, speed them up, layer them on top of each other, and being able to watch them repetitiously is having on our reptile brain, our mammalian subconscious?
Here’s a good, albeit a rather personal, example. I was in my mid-20s, on some random sunny Wed. afternoon at my mom’s house; nothing special. I think we were on our way out the door. She suddenly remembers a videotape that my cousin had given us, a greatest hits collection of home VHS Recordings. The usual bricolage of nerdy, embarrassing childhood nerdishness and tacky ’80s clothing, when all of a sudden, out of the ether, a recording of my deceased father, who passed away when i was 9.
I know this is almost hard to fathom, at this point, but there wasn’t a lot of my dad around for posterity. We didn’t get with the recorded revolution ’til late in the game; got our first VCR in 1985, and my cousin got a camcorder circa @1987 – ’88. I hadn’t seen a video or heard a recording of my father since he passed away, and i was roughly 26, at this point. The effect was like licking a generator, like getting punched in the temple. My guts squeezed up, i think i probably cried a little bit. Here is the image of someone you loved, who is dead and gone, suddenly up and talking to you, or at least at you. I reacted physically, and emotionally, and some of that emotion carried over to that medium, to that grimy, grainy VHS Recording. I have a certain love for VHS tapes, for that reason alone, but also many, many others, and also a kind of religious awe, towards that ferric miracle.
Another thing about recordings is they allow us to focus in on what we like and are fascinated by, and play them over and over. With digital technology, it is the simplest thing in the world to loop some audio, and have it play endlessly. This allows us to zoom in on the texture of a recording, to the particular pops and crackles. You can have love for texture.
Ultimately, all of these evolutions are effecting what kinds of stories we are telling, and what we are able to tell. I just finished taking a course on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, and they talked about how the crux of the sonata, and basically all western music, has to deal with moving to the Vth Chords, i.e. going somewhere, developing, and the return home, back to the root, the tonic; the resolution. You could read this as all art being heroic, epic; having to deal with combat and romance. The instructor likened it to Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey.
It is one of my theories, with the advent of recording technologies, it became possible to tell different kinds of tales. Take, for instance, the invention of the movie camera. When, previously, all drama was being created for the theater, the playwright would have to take into consideration the seated attention span of the theater goers, and plan accordingly. With people having TV sets in their living rooms, it might be more possible to have long, drawn-out, poetic, dreamy, surreal imagery, and the form starts to mutate and adapt, becoming more ambient and abstract. Basically, Tarkovsky would not have worked on the stage (although there was Samuel Beckett, so maybe…).
My ultimate example, as an illustration of an artistic tendency for maybe 150 years or so, is the evolution of what i call ‘slice-of-life’ literature, the most iconic example being Haruki Murakami. Not a lot necessarily happens in Murakami’s works, but his characters are plunged into this expanding dream world of anti-logic and quietude, and their regular life is consumed. Look into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore.
Basically, all of these ideas lead to how we see, and think about, the world around us. Artists take from, and try to express, the world around them. And this appreciation of mood and texture above a plot leads to a significantly different kind of art, a different mind set, and a re-evaluation of what role Art plays in our lives.
Some art (most art) wants to tell you how to feel. It sticks to that traditional epic format, and tries to pretend that’s all there is to life: the victory and the return. And then there’s some Art, the true ambient, that wants to interact with real life, with the environment. It actually seeks to transform reality, and in the process, transform yr psychology.
All of this by way of a very lengthy introduction into the works of April Larson. April Larson is the above-ground representative of a clan of Naga living along the coast of Louisiana. The Second Throne is her newest record on the ever-increasingly-amazing Soft Bodies Records, and it is a collection of mesmerizingly beautiful disembodied tones and suspended drones. It is in the spirit of William Basinski and The Caretaker, and is easily as good as either of them (and i don’t say that lightly). But whereas the former seeps steeped in melancholy, and the latter dipped in ink and tar, April’s tones seem lighter, brighter, like dust motes floating in the sun. Her music seems full of life, as opposed to existing in the ether. Light ambient as opposed to dark.
April Larson is not here to tell you how to think. Her goal seems to create ambient, evolving soundscapes to wander around in and explore, to twine around yr daily life, and invite a certain spaciousness. I had numerous countless, sun-filled days with the windows opening, with The Second Throne billowing on the breeze, while the cat slept and the curtains flapped. There is a magick, contained within the genetics of this music, a feeling of wonder.
They seem more like spaces than songs. I saw visions of sunlight streaming through epic gothic stained glass windows. I would say that The Second Throne would make an excellent soundtrack to reading, writing, or playing Fantasy. Create empty cathedrals in yr mind, ruined fortresses. Wander in the forest. Get lost.
April is particularly good at creating this immersive atmosphere due to exquisitely polishing and placing each drone and loop. When you are attempting to mesmerize, even the slightest hint of abrasion will kill the mood. Whether she’s working digitally or analog, i don’t know, but the mixing and reverb on The Second Throne is perfect. The loops sound immense and distant and cottony as cumulus clouds. It allows a reverie of Kubla Khan proportions to fill the room, (or yr head, or yr car). It slows the world down to a Snail’s crawl, let’s you stick yr face in the forest floor and examine the lichen and arachnid and fungi.
The wonderful Ears4Eyes blog put it poetically, when they said of The Second Throne, “The instruments here are cracks and pops, fungus and dust, decay and decrepitude; an album entropic in nature, sand seeping through a cracked and warped hour-glass. ‘The Second Throne’ is beautiful, noise kipple bricolage written large in humming sphere-symphonies.”
The Second Throne spits in the face of the term “another boring shitty drone record”. This is right and proper Ambient Music; dare i say Distinegration Loops Vol. 6? Or maybe SAW III? April Larson creates Holy Landscapes for you to drift around in.
This is a perfect record for flowering trees and soft rains, so let this be the soundtrack to your springtime.