Since 2014, we here at TMT have been patiently awaiting the first major statement from the cryptorave mediators/technological fetishists known as Amnesia Scanner. Of course, that didn’t stop us from including the Berlin-based duo’s music on a bunch of year–endlists, but now, at long last, Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala have announced their debut album.
Titled Another Life, the new album sees the duo exploring human and non-human voices within more pop-oriented structures, including a disembodied voice called Oracle that “represents the sentience that has emerged from Amnesia Scanner.” Pan Daijing, another TMT favorite, also guests on two tracks, one of which we heard earlier this year.
Another Life is due September 7 on PAN (if you might recall, label owner Bill Kouligas collaborated with AS back in 2016). Pre-order the album here, and watch the video for the album’s latest single, “AS A.W.O.L.” (dir. PWR Studio), below.
Another Life tracklist:
01. AS Symmetribal
02. AS Unlinear feat Pan Daijing
03. AS A.W.O.L.
04. AS Another Life
05. AS Daemon
06. AS Too Wrong
07. AS Spectacult feat Oracle
08. AS Faceless
09. AS Chain
10. AS Securitaz
11. AS Chaos feat Pan Daijing
12. AS Rewild
Blinks, the third EP from STAYCORE-/Bala Club-/SHAPE-affiliate Toxe is a vibrant, buoyant mess of sound and drama. Its four tracks operate as self-contained worlds, richly sketched, teeming with life: talkative synths and chattering drums flowing through honeyed tones and cartoonish squeals. Like some elaborate, crystalline object suspended in a space and time that’s not our own, overflowing with angles, edges, and recesses, her music plays with light and shade; absorbing the heat of a distant sun, smooth curvatures striated, weaving an affective mark that’s at once labile and forthright. We come at this music from above, viewing the goings-on of these otherworlds with a drones-eye-view, but as we peer more closely — our vision coming into focus — we can’t help but become entangled in their intrigues, triumphs, and sadnesses.
We begin our journey at “Honey Island,” landing abruptly on springy terrain that hisses and whistles in greeting. Undergirded by purposefully-placed bass tones, the track rolls brightly through the air — its notes hitting clear and true, reverberating gently as they move through the mix — a tumbleweed minesweeper, its intricate construction light and mobile, recursive surfaces shifting smoothly. Then, plunging deeper, “Big Age” welcomes us to a more temperate zone, where the drums rain down in precise volleys and the synths slosh around like water in a test tube, the former punch-drunk, the latter hazed-out. These sounds kern into one another, punctuated by the yelp of cartoonish cries and the whoosh of weird bodies speeding through the music.
“Perfect 2” rocks from side-to-side, built on an idiosyncratic center of gravity, tracing progressively wider arcs as it approaches a collapse that never arrives. Instead, the track straightens its back before striding forward confidently, its beat colorful and insistent, pressurized and precise, filling the crevices of its world with sound. Like putty, the track’s structure stretches and snaps as it moves, emitting yelps of pleasure/pain. Finally, “Blue Warm Up” tells the story of an organism waking up to itself, gaining consciousness as it becomes aware of its surroundings, stretching its feelers and hurling its perception outwards as flurries of sound — swelling harp, pitted synth — whip around its head. The track blooms slowly, its sounds grasping, kneading and treading the earth: a compressed sonic history of a computer-generated civilization moving, crying, laughing.
Taken as a whole, Blinks can be thought of as a series of excursions into emergent worlds that are remote from, but connected to, our own. These worlds are animated by a desire to grow and change, to reformulate themselves as they develop, altering their atmosphere and gravity, mutating with the help of drum and synth, the noises of cartoons and animals. Toxe has refined her sound to create an embedded music, attentive to that which it is contingent upon, that which it can touch and feel, a music that is febrile, alive.
A spirituality of dust might speak in the peripheral voice, were dust able to do anything but dissolve. One can speak through dust, nevertheless, in such a voice that dissolves the center’s dominion. For instance, one can ask: “Why have you forsaken me?” For instance, one can add: “You who are not…” And that one will never receive an answer merely confirms that we are loved for our loneliness and we are nothing if not lonely, but this does not mean that we who are nothing will never be. Yet, this vulnerability that lurks beneath the “always we would rather be” becomes the mechanism by which power coheres the coffin. The vulnerability to the Other in order to be is as primordial as dust, rest, and distress, and Power’s abuse is that the This that one becomes appears just as primordially infinite. What coheres is suspect. Yet the dust stirs.
What coheres is suspect. There can be no consummate wedding to the world without consuming that which one desires — or being consumed and identifying with what consumes you. The world — as with the self that claims it as its dwelling — forbids any other, anything other than a horizon of otherness reduced to its, his, transcendence. But what about her own call to the divine? What about the divinity that is here to be found and hereto be lost?
What about the most elementary aspect of love: the caress? By which lovers are reborn in and as the source of light? The mode of the caress is the peripheral voice, for instance. A caress blurs borders, blooms, shapes the not-yet, blossoms, pierces without penetration, blushes, weds without consum(mat)ing. A caress opens to the outside what was obscured with night. A caress gently opens the coffin’s constraints and offers respite to the corpse. For a coffin whose margins appear as the world’s, what better refutation than a worm? Or rust? Moss, mold, or dust?
A graveyard is indeed a peculiar place for a party. There — in the music video for ghost-single “Claustra” on the other side of the grave — the Eartheater herself, Alexandra Drewchin, writhes in ecstatic self-communion. There she bends back on herself. She becomes multiple. From abject forsakenness to “the owning of my loneliness,” “the end of the loaning of my onlyness,” she muses in apophatic prayer, fashioning that for which she longs in the act of gesturing toward it. For instance, loneliness is the void of onlyness. For instance, to own one’s loneliness is surely to inhabit such a void. What does not yet exist, what cannot even be spoken of for lack of language or self — this, on the periphery of the graveyard that appears as the world and the world occulted by its shadow, can be glimpsed in its absence.
Alexandra (dis)orients herself from this peripheral place, perhaps, for only when the earth is decentered can it be eaten. Only from the periphery can the ego’s totalizing allure be undone. Geophagus. Egophagus. And musically, the album’s apparent incompleteness — the always dissolving lack of coherence, the mosaic of multiple voices, the chance and chaos by which the songs were arranged — abides by the peripheral pull of curiosity. Ghostly chorals become whispers, moans, screeches, screams. Aching, bleeding strings offset through beats and beating stutters, eccentric, reeling. Harps and drum kits, hearts and their tremulous beating, all break.
The center of IRISIRI is itself decentered. The ghost-track “Claustra,” a microcosm of the verdant decomposition and lush disorientation with which Drewchin dissolves and fragments histories, situates itself between the double meaning of its title — a prison, but also an inner sanctum of sacred isolation. Its excentric exclusion from the album gestures toward the beyond as a decentering, recentering. Having ripped herself from the constraints of the metalepticchrysalis, now in a world without clear boundaries, brushed away with the wings’ caress — the rift between the veil and the sanctuary, the chasm by which the unknown is revealed — the excentric center becomes the (dis)orienting principle.
Like — IRIS — a message sent and received — SIRI — deviecer dna tnes egassem a — curiosity perforates the veil and returns, yet remains ephemeral. The sky is always touching the earth as woman is always touching herself, and with rain as with rainbows, she is brought to herself within herself. Without mediation. Her lips are always in constant contact. Neither one nor two. Nor reducible nor seducible to one, nor two. C.L.I.T., she postulates. Curiosity Liberates Infinite Truth, she apostrophizes. But why should a truth that is infinite have any need for us to be liberated? For the totalizing power of the man and his grave condemn the beyond to an abysmal night. Why have you forsaken me, you who are not? Or, rather, why have we forsaken you, by calling you, you?
Irigaray, if she says something, says “For if ‘she’ says something, it is not, it is already no longer, identical with what she means. What she says is never identical with anything, moreover; rather, it is contiguous. It touches (upon).” It’s a pleasure to be touched. It’s a pleasure to be dissolved. It’s a pleasure to be eaten, and, no longer lonely, to be, and only.
The last major releases from Eartheater — NYC-based composer/choreographer Alexandra Drewchin — were the double-hit of RIP Chrysalis and Metalepsis. Dropped back in 2015 on Hausu Mountain, both albums used Drewchin’s hardware accented guitar-and-operatic-vocals to build a strange, special, and beautiful discography that, free of easy comparisons, felt a little like a planet unto itself.
Of course, a lot has happened in the world since 2015. And although Eartheater’s newest record IRISIRI (out now on PAN) leans into sounds that appear much darker and harder — including Drewchin’s meticulous use of electronics now taking more of a lead — the truth remains that nothing sounds quite like Eartheater.
On the heels of the video for album-orbiting track “Claustra” and the release of IRISIRI, we had the chance to catch up with Alex on the phone one afternoon.
Can I ask what your astrological sign is?
[Laughs] I’m a Pisces/Leo/Scorpio.
Do you feel any sort of connection to those signs?
In all the mirrors that reflect reality, they all receive ourselves, so, I mean… Humans are paranoid schizophrenics when it comes to pattern recognition and that shit. It’s a decision, really. Sometimes it’s very useful for me to be like, “Oh, it’s just because I’m a Pisces.” I’m not doubting the planetary, astral pull, but people spout on that shit constantly.
It’s a little interesting that people who are about our age are looking back to these kind of ancient tools, like astrology and the Tarot, and reclaiming them in a very internet-based sort of a way.
As far as an oracle that I will admit to consulting, I really love the I Ching. My good old friend Greg Fox turned me onto it — I think I was probably 20, and he gave me an I Ching workbook, and I found it to be very helpful. You know, it’s one of the oldest texts in the world. It’s based on chance. What I like to do is throw the I Ching. To me, it’s much more gratifying — it’s like I’m engaging in some choreography, harnessing my energy and really able to focus and manifest myself into the situation. You ask it a question, but I try not to ask it a question in words. I try to close my eyes and put [myself] in this hypothetical place where there’s this infinite number of outcomes. I know it sounds a little abstract, but that’s part of the beauty of it. It’s sort of synesthetic.
In a lot of your music, it seems like you’re taking these forms that feel ancient and putting them alongside sounds that appear more contemporary. IRISIRI feels very “of the millennium.” Could you talk a little about the beginnings of the record and what were the first pieces that came up?
I never work consecutively. I don’t work in a linear fashion. The record that I first sent Bill [Kouligas, PAN label head] had mostly all completely different songs than what ended up on [IRISIRI]. It really was just a matter of chaos and chance that these were the songs that ended up [on it], because we were getting down to the wire, and I was like, “Okay! These are the ones.” Because they all have a specific through-thread, in spite of them exploring very different sound palettes. [“Claustra”] I consider to be part of the record — I’m calling it a “ghost track.” I know that’s creating some kind of obfuscation, for press and capitalism, but to me, it’s part of the whole thing. There was a limitation — I could only have 40 minutes on that record. In some ways, I feel like the next thing I need to do is release an IRISIRI Two and Three. Pull some Migos shit, just because there’s so much music. IRISIRI to me spans much farther than just the perimeter of just this particular tracked record.
What would you say is that through-thread of this bigger project?
I think that, maybe to a fault, I’m overly emotionally inspired by different expressions and sounds. I have this huge impulse to try all these different things, and I think that’s what it is, ultimately. It’s purging all of these intense desires just to sort of get it out, because I do sense that there are some much more focused, more modal-sounding records underneath. I feel like I’m in this purging of pent-up inspiration that is almost conflicting inspiration.
Your albums sound very composed and controlled, and I’ve wondered to what extent are those kinds of explorations present on the records, or whether that’s something you keep private?
I’m such an emotional creature. When I listen to the record, it’s like I’m watching a movie.
I definitely thought long and hard about the sequence of these songs and the way that the narrative happens. Everything was pretty symbolic in terms of the placement of each track. I’ve heard that they say, “Oh, yeah, you need to put all the singles up in the front,” because, you know, millennial attention span is, like, nil. I didn’t buy into that, obviously, on this record. I was like, “I’m going to put the really weird, conceptual, saccharine, lusty-ass track up there,” because that seemed like what the “film” needed. Then “Curtains” is the seventh track, and that’s the centerpoint of the 13 tracks, so that’s the intermission, which symbolizes a switch, and then the next song is “Switch”…
When you’re making a record, is there a point when you know what you’re working on is part of a whole? When does that center begin to form?
I’ve made so much music that didn’t even wind up on the record, so when I think about these particular songs, I need to comb through all of the stuff that is still attached, in my view of it, that nobody else can see or understand. I think the thing that is different about this record is that I actively wanted to challenge my comfort zone. With Metalepsis and RIP Chrysalis, I was functioning from a very comfortable place. Even the guitar as a blueprint instrument, things just flow out so naturally that way. So I wanted to challenge myself. On each track, I was trying to explore something different from the track before. And it wasn’t, “I’m going to master this one thing for this record, all the songs are going to sound cohesive in this particular new flex.” With Camae [Moor Mother]’s track [“MMXXX”], I got really obsessed with cutting up all these field-recorded glass sounds, and car doors slamming, and engine sounds, and painting in these micro-edits. And I’d never done anything like that before, ever, and I was just so pumped on it. Even little things, like, “I’m going to throw in the 3-against-4 woodblock polyrhythm sound” — and for all these techno kids out here who are probably just like, “Well yeah, duh,” for me, as the guitar, little romantic RIP Chrysalis/Eartheater baby, that was really exciting.
Then the same with the Odwalla1221 track [“Inhale Baby”]. I made so many tracks like that, this hyper, glitchy, ambient drama. I made that one track, and I was just, like, “This is for Odwalla, they need to be on this.” So that was a new thing for me, exploring producing a track and feeling like I don’t have to be the vocalist.
And then with the tracks “Not Worried” and “Inkling,” this sibling little duo thing happened. That came from a sort of cosmic, internet artist love affair between me and Ghost Drank, this adorable baby in Dallas — you should check out his visual art; it’s gorgeous. He secretly produces a lot, and this weird thing happened where he would send me a track, and I would just write a song in one take right over it, and both of those songs are just first take, all the lyrics right there, and I’d just double it and it was done. Those tracks really mean a lot to me. They’re very emotional and sweet.
For some reason, I feel like those tracks are like “Be Careful” on the new Cardi B record [Invasion Of Privacy], and the way that people didn’t expect that from her. They didn’t expect this more gentle music. My last two records were very melodic and soothing. People would say, like, “This is my bathtub record.” Meanwhile, my performances are summoning hell very often.
I saw you play at St. Vitus a while ago, and I remember thinking, “This is a very dark performance.”
It was probably that embarrassing one.
It felt very ceremonial.
I’m actually not a very witchy person. [Laughs] And then the track “MTTM” (“Married To The Moment”), that track is all modular. It was the second modular track that I made. So there’s a lot of infantile moments on the record. It’s all new things. And “Switch,” that was literally one of the first beats I ever made that wasn’t hardware. Every track is kind of standalone in me trying to figure out something new.
Something that comes up in your lyrics a lot is the idea of transforming from one thing into another thing, whether it’s some kind of body cyborg thing or something more internal. Like in the video you made for [mispronounces “Ecdysisyphis”] —
“Ecdysisyphis.” I’m so extra with the titles sometimes.
That same human/computer energy is really present on the new album. At what point in the recording process did that energy take over?
I think it was very present from the beginning. The post-RIP Chrysalis Eartheater was for sure really feeling that “The Internet Is Handmade” through-thread, which goes through all three records. It’s just so much a part of me, it’s hard to even talk about.
Thinking about the album as a film, to you does that mean more of a sensory, visual thing, or a long piece of narrative?
Both. I hope that it can remain pretty free-associative. I think the more you listen to the album, the more you’ll feel the characters — the parts of me, the different voices, the different feelings, the different moods that become like characters in this thing. I don’t know if it comes off super personal, because it’s all drenched in encryption at times, but it does feel very exposing to me. So maybe it’s me also protecting myself from feeling that vulnerability in viewing it as a film, to sort of separate the almost triggering emotions that can happen when I listen and hear these encapsulated emotional pockets.
Does thinking of IRISIRI as a film make it feel less or more personal?
It makes it feel less personal, but that doesn’t lessen the emotional intensity. I generally am mostly drawn to art that is very explicit and intimate and grotesque and strange and unpredictable. Something that I really love in film is the power of the scene cut — the change of scene and the change of atmosphere. I love feeling that one’s hormones and adrenaline and chemicals in your brain respond to the difference in how a film is edited. The difference you feel in a song like “C.L.I.T.” versus what you feel at the beginning, in a song like “Inkling” or “MTTM,” that arc — the different landscapes, that hyper-difference — is way more exciting to me than just a modal landscape. At least now, in the drama of this. There’s this emotional thing that’s going on, and there’s this structural thing. All these different scenes. The tracks all have their own locations.
So much of what Eartheater is — in your videos of performances — is movement-based. Do you see the choreography being as much a part of “Eartheater” as the songwriting and the albums? And how do you differentiate between working in those two modes?
One is a simulacrum from the other. I can feel the movement for a specific nuance in the body for every single song, every single lyric. Every little thing can be so clearly expressed and drawn out physically. That language — I flip-flop from feeling like it’s very hard to express myself to then feeling a hyper-sense of poetry in language. And sometimes that’s really frustrating for me, at least verbally. As a child, I was a really late reader. I had terrible dyslexia and was brutally teased because I could hardly read, and I had terrible test anxiety. But ever since I was young, I felt an incredible sense of body language. It becomes kind of an abstract concept, but I feel like I’m much more comfortable speaking with movement than I am sometimes even just speaking with words. It’s where I actually feel the most life and the most pleasure. That trinity of music, lyrics, and movement — it wouldn’t be a triad without that last point of movement. It’s absolutely one shape.
Other that Cardi B, is there any other art right now that you’re hype on?
[Laughs] Yeah fuck it, I love Cardi. I was in the studio with MOMA READY. He makes such beautiful dance music, and he’s also a really good dancer, and that was a cool moment that happened recently. We made a track really fast. I don’t know, I love my friends. That’s all I can think about, really. You know, my FLUCT girls, I love them so much. And Tara-Jo Tashna, she did an incredible performance at Company Gallery in Manhattan. It was so gorgeous… And then Deli Girls, I love those babies. I’m forever in love with Juliana Huxtable. I work with AceMo, they’re the best. Shoutout AceMo. Shoutout graveyards. Uh… I’m looking at the books next to my bed. Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood. Shoutout The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman, an amazing book. Witness To A Lost Imagination, this book is fuckin’ good. Oh then of course Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Shoutout cactuses, jade, aloe, palm trees… I am in this place where I feel like this gooey little worm. I feel like such a little baby, and really open, and it’s probably not cool. But the baby is there. Big time.
Beebeep-beep-beep-beeep-beep!!! Hot PAN news incoming from the NEWSWIRE!!
Thanks for tuning in to Tiny Mix Tapes, your #1 news source for all things PAN! (That’s right Resident Advisor, we’re coming for you!!!!!)
This time the news is about an all-new release from Toxe! The Swedish producer and SHAPE alumna has knocked our socks off before via her work with Halcyon Veil and Staycore, but now she’s coming to PAN with a brand new EP, Blinks. Consisting of four new tracks developed over the past year and featuring original art by by Jasper Spicero, Blink reportedly represents “a period of inward flux” for Toxe, fusing “a sweet juvenilia with a bustling and eager pensive tone to outline her tessellating sense of self just below the surface.”
If that sounds a little confusing, don’t sweat it: you can just stream the first single, “Big Age,” for yourself down below! It’s a meandering, syncopated procedure full of sonic arteries twisting and turning amongst each other, but it still manages to capture the magic and immediacy worthy of her club-circuit cred. Hard to dance to, easy to love! (PAN, you can use that as your new tagline, but you have to give me credit, ok?)
Blinks arrives June 22 (you can stop holding your breath now) on 12-inch vinyl and digital and can be pre-ordered right over here.
If you just can’t wait until June 22 and you happen to live near London, you also can catch Toxe at her DEBUT live appearance at the Barbican alongside fellow TMT fave, Actress. That show is this coming Saturday, though, so hurry up and get tickets!
Blinks EP tracklisting:
01. Honey Island
02. Big Age
03. Perfect 2
04. Blue Warm Up
According to this here press release, Eartheater (Queens-based artist Alexandra Drewchin) has a background in classical music. Let’s muse on that a moment, shall we?
Classical, opera, etc., at least in its traditionally recognizable form, has been dwindling in popularity over the last half century or so. Wanna know why? Or, at least my theory of why?
It’s cause, you guessed it, classical is tailored ESPECIALLY for performance! Music has become more accessible via recorded formats, meaning people have become less enamored by the experience of live hi-fidelity music. Like, they’re less surprised when they hear something that sounds amazing happening right in front of them. The thrill of the spectacle has dwindled, the awe has dwindled, so the popularity of classical performance has dwindled. Get what I’m saying? See where I’m going?
Pause for a moment — can’t you think of a more recent musical/cultural phenomenon where people are enamored not only by sound but also by spectacle, by the experience of gathering itself? That’s right: DANCE music, ELECTRONIC music! Club music fans, well, they like being in clubs, electronic music fans, well, they like hearing big speakers, sharing the experience with others! Surely the experience is vastly different than the expected tranquility of a classical concert (which, I suppose, is why club/electronic music remains popular), but do you see the parallel? Experiential AND sonic awe?
Now, I’m meandering, so here’s my point: these two genres are at a crossroads, they’re intersecting, I tell you. People are realizing that ritualistic gathering has a lot of potential for the post-modern age. Something to take advantage of!
Cue the entrance of artists like Eartheater (along with, say, Elysia Crampton, James Ferraro, Klein) who, as of late, have been making music easily classified as operatic, classical, etc., if not sonically, then experientially! I find this absolutely riveting since both classical/theater/opera sorta require live experience to thrive, just like dance and electronic music!!
Okay, okay, enough food for thought. The reason I’m here: to tell YOU that Eartheater has a wonderful new release coming out June 8th via PAN called IRISIRI! It’s a three movement piece heavily informed by her background in classical music, which, HELLO, is the genre-blending kinda thing I’ve been talking about! Classical composition, emotive electronic elements, live performance, it’s all here! “Trespasses” dances on the outer fringes of both electronic music and classical, and it’s as beautiful as it is haunting, the kind of thing you should sit down and immerse yourself in.
Stream below to test my goofy theory, and preorder IRISIRI here.
I’m writing this story with Siri’s voice-to-text, so apologies in advance. I just can’t type with my body, though, because every single pore on my skin is so tantalized by the exquisite news that Eartheater is sharing her new album, titled IRISIRI, on the illustrious PAN this coming June. Looks like my phone will have to do the hard work for me. How prescient.
And I’m even MORE excited because you can hear the first single from that record right now! The song is called “C.L.I.T.” I’m told this is an acronym for “Curiosity Liberates Infinite Truth.” Following last week’s video for “Claustra,” this song is guaranteed to actually be on the album. The audial foreplay has finally begun! Woohoo!
Eartheater, the oneric project of Alexandra dreary chin…sorry that’s not right, Siri. Alexandra Drew chicken. Damn it! Alexandra DREWCHIN — there we go! — was responsible for one of our favorite albums of 2015, the singular RIP Chrysalis. Drewchin uses a combination of syncopated electronic rhythms, a three-octave titular voice, and hyper-evocative poetry to tell stories of genderific horror from inside a technology-attached world. “C.L.I.T.” is no exception, pushing her music to a new heightened state of astute domination. It’s very Drewchin — and very PAN. What’s not to love? (Answer: absolutely nothing.)
IRISIRI, a clever palindrome from the wordplay master herself, arrives June 8 and features additions from Odwalla1221 and Moor Mother, as well as mastering from Rashad Becker (of course). You can check out its first authentic single, album art, and tracklisting below. Now get the hell off your phone and rejoice!
Siri, send this message. Yes, I’m ready to send it. Thank you. Turn on Do Not Disturb. Thank you.
Amnesia Scanner and Pan Daijing go together like heat and gasoline. The result is an unstoppable chemical fire, destroying everything it touches, confident in its domination. It spreads at speeds faster than the predicted speed, stealing our attention for longer than we would like to admit. Speedway goes up in flames and everyone smiles internally. Where’s it going next? Go get town hall. Knock it out. A primal surge takes hold of all the witnesses, no one has felt this excited in a long time. Chaos. Maybe it’ll burn down your house. Imagine being the center of all that attention. A lifetime of memories gone instantly. Isn’t that breathtaking?
Watch “AS Chaos (feat. Pan Daijing)” above via PAN.
If this isn’t a testament to the fact that my thoughts control the universe, then I don’t know what is. Literally just the other day I was thinking to myself, “Dang, those Eartheater records from a few years ago were totally excellent. Sure hope she drops some more goodness on us in the form of a full-length album, or at least maybe a video that takes place in a graveyard soon.” And what do you know? That’s literally just what happened. The Secret is real, y’all.
Speaking of secrets, no firm details just yet on a full-length new album; but we’ve got a brand new video for a track entitled “Claustra,” which you can watch below. Co-directed by Alexandra Drewchin (a.k.a. Queen Eartheater herself) and Christine Zenyi Lu, the video pairs the unnerving winnow of two dancers through the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with a pulsating track that would’ve been totally at home on either Metalepsis or RIP Chrysalis from 2015 (apparently it was written around the time of RIP Chrysalis, in particular), yet still finds Drewchin charging forward as a powerful voice in this weird liminal space between outer space and the dirty earth.
Detail-oriented Youtube users (aren’t we all?) will note that the video was posted by none other than PAN, because, yep, that’s right: Drewchin has signed with PAN to release that full-length album for which there are not further details yet. Stay tuned, though. Reader; I would love nothing more than to post those further details the second my little eyes read whatever press release comes my way.
“Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise.”
– Jacques Attali
For many of us, it has been a year in which barriers that once appeared permanent have been broken by a corrosive torrent of noises. Generalized expressions of anxiety and grief have grown so pervasive as to signify the loss of an order, doing so loudly and clearly, even as the exact substance and character of what has been lost is not as clear. This was a year in which members of “democratic societies,” with their ostensible commitment to the free exchange of ideas, began to look at our neighbors with mistrust and to feel newly isolated, our venues of public communication populated with new obstacles, dangers, and demonic images. Obviously, Trump is president, and the bumbling permutation of fascism that accompanied him has been mislabeled “populist” in its bid for control of the social imagination, bringing with it new confusions about in what exactly the “popular” sphere consists. Even the holdouts who nobly, if naïvely, defended the dignity of “fact” have to admit that information, no matter where it comes from, has become something like noise.
“Ambient music,” in the midst of this growing commotion, has taken a prominent place in the avant-garde for the first time since the initial explosion of New Age aesthetics in the 1970s. Something about it isn’t the same, though. Both paradoxically and inevitably, because what’s counted as “ambient” is inherited equally from material surroundings as from the desire to transcend them, we can’t talk about “ambience” at a time like this without implicating noise and pain. There is a deep calm on offer in the music of the Trump era, both abundant and gained through an emphasis on the domestication of harm and unrest. Little seems more exciting and relevant in music today than a healing noise, than harsh ambience.
In an essay from a couple years ago titled “Fascism in Ambient Music Culture” (currently only available via The Wayback Machine), Evelyn M. Malinowski connects the perennial reemergence of ambient music and its aesthetic of immersion with cycles of political oppression and public suffering. Malinowski goes so far as to accuse ambient music of complicity with fascism in the numb and thoughtless acceptance of the status quo that it’s apparently meant to induce. When our surroundings are noisy, bothersome, unfamiliar, and full of violence, the search for an individualized form of healing in the escape into an imagined space assumes a potentially irresponsible political connotation.
Still, ambient music today feels profoundly separate from the escapist mentality of its 1970s origins. Where Brian Eno wrote in the liner notes of Ambient 4: On Land of an affinity “with the futures that didn’t materialize, and with the other variations of the present that we suspect run parallel to the one we have agreed to live in,” the ambient music of 2017 seems to have more of an affinity with Robert Christgau’s take, who, in a review of David Toop’s Ocean of Sound, described ambient works as “microcosms to dive into, not magic carpets to escape on, and gently or subtly or harshly or esoterically or whimsically or just plain oddly [accommodating] the disturbing and the chaotic.” And while, in a text written only a few years ago, Malinowski seems more than a little bit off in lumping in with “ambient music” the Berlin Atonal festival and William Bennett’s Cut Hands and Extreme Music from Africa projects for the purpose of her political critique, today the lines, formal and social, between the ambient and such emblems of disruption and violence are not so easily drawn.
Health is enacted across times and places with little overall continuity, except for that of a few things, like an interest in the body and the forces affecting it. Music, too, is a territory redrawn and contested across space and time, understood not in regard to essence, but as a sense of connection both to a movement of/within an individual and to historically contingent methods of formalizing it. As much as the two have fought being tied to anything, health and music have been unable to shake free of one another. Apollo was the god of music and medicine, and music has been used for clinical purposes since at least as early as Hippocrates. Their tryst has endured, or have maybe been strengthened by, their respective ambiguity and mobility. It’s a thing for which discourses of health have, with surprising continuity, carved a special, if benign, place, far from the marginalized realm of the fringe, the folk, and the homespun. Discourses of music, likewise, have always taken seriously the situation of the body.
Of course, the relationship between noise and health has been articulated in different ways, and it has not always been viewed as a perfectly harmonious marriage. Where health has been tied more closely to matters of fact and of calculative precision, the clinical environment has been quieter. With the invention of the stethoscope, for example, medical spaces were “quieted under the pressure of an aesthetic that demanded a more intent theatrical listening,” according to Hillel Schwartz in Making noise: from Babel to the Big Bang and beyond, while the phenomenon of “hearing voices” has been classed as a medical problem since antiquity. Still, concepts of health and of music seem to migrate in some kind of concert. In the 1970s, the coincidence of New Age spirituality, New Age medicine, and New Age music made for a poignant episode in this relationship, both new and, like the twilight of a critical moment in public life, not unlike our own. Weary from drugs, tired of war, and having failed to remake society through the political process, young people instead remade their individual concepts of world and body. Religion, health, and music were here put into combined service, related to one another as tools for personal transformation.
Today, there is a voice that calls health, with some authority, by the name “wellness.” Pervasive discussions of “self care,” as well as corresponding changes in spiritual and aesthetic attitudes toward the body, mark the novelty of this version of health in its inward character. “Especially in this period of existence,” the Slovenian DJ E/Tape tells Resident Advisor for a recent piece on wellness and dance music, “everybody’s struggling to find a way to balance their energies.” Something about “this period of existence,” this moment in history and in culture, has imbalanced those mysteriously and subjectively apprehensible “energies” of the body. People now perceive themselves as under threat from the notions of health they were previously content, in a kind of constructed objectivity, to share with one another, and as in need of a radically individualized remedy.
“Ambient music,” always an awkward terminological stumbling block for music writers, emerged as a transformative force in music under the purview of New Age aesthetics and re-emerges in the light of this new vision of health, accompanied by vaguely familiar discussions of the body and imagined space. “Noise music,” another ambiguous coinage of critics and commenters, has always been opposed on face to “ambient music.” Instead of the latter’s loose attachments to embodied pseudo-reality, a kind of physical order, and to healing, it seems to invoke disorientation and pain. The Latin ambo, from which “ambience” is derived, means “around” or “on both sides,” calling forth the spatial character of the relationship between vibration and the shaken eardrums, the physical reality “beneath” music. “Noise,” meanwhile, is believed to come from either nausia, “disgust,” or noxia, “harm.” If pressed to conjure a general image of the noise performance, I picture a figure feverishly turning knobs and slamming on guitar pedals with the palms of their hands in a violent ritual far from the illegible austerity of the onstage ambient musician. In the world outside the obscure spaces from which these narrow images are derived, noise — at best mundane, at worst a serious threat — is a subterranean presence that comes to bear on music and its ideal ordering of relations only in those moments of crisis at which it, as in Michel de Certeau’s description of the forces of historical change, “breaks through barriers, flooding the social channels and opening new pathways that, once the flow of its passage has subsided, will leave behind a different landscape and a different order.” Noises are, by their nature, unwelcome and poorly understood wherever they occur. They signify something real and not yet ordered by the imagination. It is unclear whether noise seeks to destroy music or to become it.
In 2017, the terms “ambient” and “noise,” as impotently as they have always been put to work in describing music, seem no longer to work whatsoever. The Japanese phrase 物の哀れ, translating literally to “mono no aware” and less literally to “empathy toward things,” was borrowed by Bill Kouligas for the title of his label PAN’s compilation of “ambient tracks,” billed as such even as it features Kouligas’s shrill “VXOME” and bold contributions from artists like Helm and TCF whom many listeners would place closer to the “noise” side on the old spectrum. The “empathy toward things” displayed in this collection is something like a reconciliation of the ambient, with its complicated relationship to immanence and transcendence, with the noise that it can no longer bear to exclude.
Another artist featured on mono no aware, Yves Tumor, spent the year weaving the threads of gorgeous, looping ambience that make up Experiencing the Deposit of Faith, which Evan Coral describes in his review as a “plunge into a state of immersion,” and stumbling hazardously and unignorably around the world to his harsh noise live sets. While it may have come as a surprise to some, it seemed to me a radically appropriate sign of the character of the musical landscape when Ryuichi Sakamoto commissioned a Yves Tumor remix of “Zure” from async, an album that itself powerfully documents environmental discontinuity in a manner both ambient, like the subdued notes and sampled soundscape of “Walker,” and noisy, like the anxious buzzing and whispering of “Fullmoon.”
Earlier this year, The Guardian published an article about the “weary souls” making ambient music “cool again.” Among the artists mentioned in the piece is Suzanne Kraft, otherwise known as Diego Herrera, whose Passive Aggressive with Jonny Nash for the latter’s Melody As Truth label is as good as any demonstration of the uneasy sort of peace that became the dominant atmosphere of the musical underground in 2017. Like awkward conversational partners, software instruments quip at one another against the monolithic backdrop of silence. Parts of the record sound like parts of Eno’s Ambient albums, but the attack and decay slopes of the pads are all wrong. A track like “Refractory Cafe” mixes up our register of the acoustic and the synthetic in its juxtaposition of synthesized voices and the tangible shake of bass strings. A similarly airy and pseudo-naturalistic, New Age-adjacent palette can be heard on the “noisier” Tereza by Keru Not Ever, used to more interruptive effect, but inheriting a similar spatial sensibility.
Is Mark Harwood and Graham Lambkin’s Sirisongs more ambient or noisy? Personal assistants programmed into the operating systems of smartphones respond obliviously to wind chimes, low drones, muttered onomatopoeia, and one another, their “conversation” recorded as it shook the silence and space around it with no obvious processing. Here, too, is the noisy peace of the present, a kind of pseudo-linguistic cacophony absorbed meditatively into the background of life. Sirisongs is almost startling, in that it abstracts into nonsense the communication with technology we often perceive as essential and also almost comforting, as it brings us partly into another space where the recognizable cadence of the digital personal assistant, an element of the clamor of public life, is separated entirely from that economy of noise.
These have been but a few examples of the predicament of those aspiring to a description of the state of “ambient music” in 2017. If, like Jacques Attali claims, the “noises of a society are in advance of its images and material conflicts,” the situation of the musical avant-garde says something important about the way that the relationships between world and body, and between harm and health, are wildly in flux. While ambient music is irrevocably tied to an inward approach to healing, it is not made available without some image of the world and without the baggage of the noise that fills that world and transforms the ways we make sense of it. Noise music, while similarly connected to pain and the transgression of accepted boundaries, draws upon materials destined in its posturing as music to be incorporated into the background of life and rendered acceptable.
And in a time characterized by the expansion of both our private lives and our public sufferings, when we widely consider our identities and sources of identification to be decalibrated and broken, the cycle according to which ambience passes into noise and noise reconciles into ambience is nauseously quickened. Their rivalry doubles as an image of a bygone order. The terms we fashion in convention to classify art never last, but in times like this one, they hardly seem to do us any good at all. We shouldn’t try too hard to rescue them; instead, we should accept those classificatory ephemera as the shadows of a future in which violent transformation and peaceful restoration must be reconciled, their lines shortening and fading in anticipation of a kind of high noon.