A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Once upon a time, cultural artifacts were perceived as a result of linear causality. “Where do you get your ideas from?” musicians would be asked endlessly on Top Of The Pops. “Who’s your biggest inspiration?” rings another empty banality. Albums would be interpreted along the lines of descent, ‘inspired by…’ and judged accordingly.
This linear cause-and-effect interpretation would crumble into so much dust in The Eternal Now of The Digital Age. Or is crumbling might be more correct, but do tenses really matter when everything’s happening all at once?
As such, music criticism used to be hierarchical and meritocratic. Woe to you if you were an industrial rock band in the ’90s who was a little bit less good than Nine Inch Nails (look at Prick or Placebo for an example) or moody downtempo bands who weren’t quite as polished as Portishead, Massive Attack, or Tricky.
Musical styles would fall in and out of fashion, as well. One would run the risk of being a social pariah for liking the wrong thing at the wrong moment. This is all very different from when The Digital Age would set in proper. These days, there’s a community for everything and everyone.
This is a prime moment to re-appreciate some older works of art (and formats!) that may’ve slipped past our ears when they were first emerging Birmingham, UK’s Mark Harris is an exquisite place to start this journey, being an evocative, emotional, stunningly-realized work of generative electroacoustic music that also happens to pertain to memory and landscape – two of our most commented-on subjects in these shadowed realms.
The Angry Child is a long-form ambient meditation based off of recordings of generative music, which are then sculpted and polished into glistening, amorphous clouds of ethereal, sublime beauty.
Speaking on the inspiration for The Angry Child, Mark Harris says,
“I was stuck by how all of the pieces were evocative of the landscape of rural Norfolk in the UK where I spent a lot of time when I was a boy, an endless flat landscape where the tide would take the sea out from miles and at times the sea / the sky / and the weather all gradually merge together. I remember how as a boy I would spend hours sitting on a small hill looking out to sea watching the light / clouds and weather gradually change… I hope the listener catches something of the feeling of that place and time by listening to this work,”
– as quoted by the StationaryTravels blog back in 2014.
There is no morality in these tones, no judgement and no resolution. One gets the sense of a young Harris sitting on some hillside, staring off at the distance, watching silver light break through the clouds. While it’s projection, to some extent, with a name like The Angry Child, it stands to reason that perhaps Harris’ upbringing was a little less-than-sunny (who’s wasn’t?) And yet… and yet… this is no grim, miserablist document. No middle-of-the-night dark ambient isolationism. Instead, The Angry Child‘s six interlocking tone poems are some of the warmest, lushest, most evocative long-form ambient electronic music you’ll hear this year. Or last. Or next.
Harris’ reliance on generative music and improvisational spontaneity defy the Pop structuralism that seems nearly inescapable in 2018. While musical hermeneutics are always going to be subjective (until we do something about that, but more on that imminently), certain harmonic progressions are so omnipresent they’ve become saddled with meaning. The I – IV – V – I blues progression is frequently compared to Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” where a protagonist learns of some special destiny, goes out to seek their fortune, proves themselves, and then returns home again with all that they’ve learned.
Mark Harris’ emotional landscapes turn that narrative inside-out. There is no heroic arc, here, no easy answers, no resolution. Just an endless landscape and all of the human dramas that play out across it. It’s messy, blurry, chaotic, confusing… painful and exhilarating in equal measure, often at the same time.
I came across a CD copy of The Angry Child that i got back in 2014 when it was first being released, earlier in this mad, musickal mission to infect the world with subtlety, beauty, and critical reasoning. Life got in the way and prevented me from writing about it at the time, although i’ve listened many times in the ensuing years. At the time, i remember thinking CDs were tacky. I’d also been catching shit for being way into ambient music and drone for years and years. Maybe i finally let the bitterness get to me. Or surrender to the confusion of trying to offer critical commentary and my personal aesthetics into the void of Public Tastes (it’s a thankless task, and i mostly recommend avoiding it.) If i had the benefit of hindsight, i’d say, “You know, the sound design is utterly flawless! The production is impeccable! The artist is blending an interesting concept with some real human feeling. If you can’t see/hear that, you just don’t like music.”
But i really don’t like foisting my opinion off on other people. I also don’t like telling people they’re wrong. To each their own, live and let die, and all of that. Now that it’s possible to find a niche of like-minded passionate zealots for any form of cultural creation you could imagine, the time is ripe for reinvestigation some of the lost gems.
That’s been one of the reasons for my long silence. I’ve been bogged down in the swamp of Public Opinion, feeling confused and conflicted about how to proceed with this cultural commentary. I’m returning, stronger, clearer, and with much more vigor, so i hope you all like what you see, hear, and read! Would love to hear yr thoughts & feelings, yr hopes and dreams, for what’s to come on Forestpunk!
Mark Harris’ The Angry Child was released on February 18, 2014 on n5md records.
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