Like the seminal Swans album, this column contains an eclectic collection of experimental music recommendations, all of which provide sonic landscapes for the listener to lose themselves within. Expect offerings from the genres of ambient, drone, electroacoustic, free improvisation, post-minimalism and more.
While it’s unfair to call the “electroacoustic” tag unhelpful, the meaning of it’s name is far more self-explanatory than the works it labels. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the underlying concept is relatively straight forward: electroacoustic music applies any number of digital effects to acoustic (or more accurately, non-electronic) recordings, whether it be instruments, found sounds or field recordings. This method creates a certain detached tangibility – a recognition of the deliberate, musical purpose of sounds which you often times can’t quite link to a specific source. Such an odd bricolage may cause some to question the musicality of these works, but to the contrary, it’s precisely this careful crafting of disparate sounds which established the genre as a unique art form all its own. The process experimental music veteran David Toop used to create Entities Inertias Faint Beings illuminates precisely why this is:
The music existed already, spores maybe or dormant clusters of digital files. Out of three periods of solitude the germination began… In solitude I contemplated death, decay, the gush of life. [A friend] told me, when you die you’ll leave many projects unfinished. I laughed. Unspeakable truths, notes for a language to come, maybe not this world.
Toop’s isolation speaks to the the purpose you might extract from his latest record, or perhaps more fittingly, the meaning you’ll be led to discover by what the album doesn’t say. One of the defining qualities of minimalist experimental music – such as elecroacoustic works – is the way in which the total lack of blatant meaning forces the listener to fill in the blanks. Like a Mark Rothko painting, these styles of music forgo standard messaging in favor of a canvas atop the canvas.
So what, then, can be expected from Entities Inertias Faint Beings? For starters, this is certainly an album to be played as a piece rather than in pieces, as any one track can’t help you craft a complete picture on its own. And though there are instances of traditional instrumentation, like the soulful guitar on “Dry Keys Echo in the Dark and Humid Early Hours,” this same track contains peculiar, untraceable sounds, such as a passage which seems to capture the heavily slowed-down and manipulated sounds of a typewriter being fed paper and then re-calibrated. The track then presents a myriad of general sounds which surface throughout the record – moments of shuffling, humming, grinding, beeping and so on which take on more of a rhythmic, hypnotic quality, many of which seem to be conjured from digital-treatment techniques that present shades of ambient and glitch. It feels as though you’re hearing these moments while underwater in an empty pool, where the sonic environment is striking and varied but your actual surroundings are completely blank.
One of the few “traditional” compositions on the record comes with “Ancestral Beings, Sightless by Their Own Dust,” the most maximalist work of the bunch. Splashes of cymbals collide with the buzz of their very notes being distorted, and the wails of an Asiatic fiddle further call attention to Toop’s extended time in solitude listening to Japanese gagaku, Buddhist rituals from Bhutan and Korean Confucian music. Bright, contemplative notes of a synthetic chime-like melody linger throughout the track, floating through the dense cloud of accompanying sounds. Compounding whispers build to the conclusion, which climaxes in a torrential rainstorm amplified to resemble a blast of harsh noise.
Though this track breaks the mold of the album’s overall sparseness, there’s still a sense of that tabula rasa mentality that persists throughout the record. When Toop distorts and re-purposes traditional sounds, he offers a post-structural template for listeners to paint themselves. You may view woodwinds as a standard instrument with a recognizable sound, but the way Toop processes a few extended saxophone notes on “Things Just Went Sour Gradually All at Once” presents nothing more than vague familiarity, necessitating a self-created extension of what you perceived as a basic element of music and performance.
Of course, all of the above may describe an entirely different experience than what you draw from Entities Inertias Faint Beings, and that’s truly the beauty of electroacoustic music. If we were to listen to a standard guitar riff together, we might disagree on the quality of the songwriting and performance but likely not the basic fundamentals of the instrument and its sound. With the music of artists like Toop, the conversation remains a debate over both what’s being heard in the first place and what can be construed from the collection of sounds. And despite the uncertainty of what is to be found, albums like this create soundscapes that are worth the journey.
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Entities Inertias Faint Beings is available now via Room40. You can purchase the album here.