Styles: sound art, experimental, conceptual music
Others: Alvin Lucier, Phill Niblock, Philip Jeck
Each time I read Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I find myself drawn to the preacher's speech on eternity during the chapel scene in the third chapter. The Father goes to great lengths describing a monolithic mountain of sand that a bird moves piece by piece at lengthy intervals, his verbal repetition and bombast further enhancing both the tediousness and length of the task and the ridiculousness of the illustration — and then he reminds his listeners that this absurd mountain-moving project would only occupy the smallest fraction of eternity. And being a Catholic priest addressing an audience of teenage boys, the eternity he paints in such drab hues is of course an eternity in hell. I read this sermon not as fire and brimstone histrionics or the spoonfeeding of guilt by the patriarchy (although these concepts are certainly aspects of its character), but as a bizarre and compelling piece of art in which the orator invests himself so fully and dramatically in painting complete nothingness, absolute desolation. It's not just turning something into nothing — it's turning everything into total absence.
With 4 Rooms, Jacob Kirkegaard embarks on a similar task of conveying a crippling emptiness through extravagant means. Each recorded in four abandoned enclosures in Chernobyl's radiation ravaged "Zone of Alienation," this album's pieces consist of overpowering ridges of drone, overtone-heavy sounds whose nuances might take an eternity to really hear. Kirkegaard takes spaces evacuated after the city's nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986 and portrays them as overfilled with sound. The harrowing part is that these impenetrable tones are actually layered bits of natural ambience: Kirkegaard recorded each room for ten minutes, replayed the recordings into the spaces from which they came, recorded these replayings, and repeated the process up to ten times. The record's obfuscating textures signify a lack of life, abandonment, and decay.
While successful on a conceptual level, 4 Rooms hardly makes for a companionable listen, nor do its challenges make for more interesting listening on subsequent spins. But thinking back to Artist, perhaps art like this reverberates most heavily on non-aesthetic planes — the sermon scared Stephen Dedalus out of visiting hookers for a while, but it had little impact on his development as a writer. The album's most redeeming quality is that its subject, like eternity, is not a notion to be entirely grasped; as a result, it can never be replaced by "the real thing" (i.e., a true understanding of the depths of the Chernobyl tragedy). For all its high-minded conception and grounding in recording-technology-as-an-art, its attempt at illustrating the incomprehensible gives 4 Rooms an almost mythic quality.
3. Swimming Pool
3. Swimming Pool