“The individual is inside of the other, and the other is inside of the individual, and these are three individuals…”
– Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme
Fragmented and reconfigured is how Laurel Halo likes both her music and her presentation of self. Laurel, within the context of her discography, seems to always pander to an idea of a moment in time, herself in a time, not bound to history or prior contexts. This is especially true of Chance Of Rain, an astonishingly challenging album in every sense of the word; and for this, it is one of the most fascinating and beautiful things I have heard in years.
Laurel Halo as Fragmented Self Shooting Through Liminal and Shattered Time/Space
1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold
With Chance Of Rain, Laurel Halo makes another jump: a logical and mathematically sound one, but an abrasive and unilateral one, nonetheless. This album is founded on the grounds of her own kinship to her expressive self, borne from the live context. Having first performed these tracks as improvised pieces, molded from the moment in which they were birthed, she sculpted the parts to suit the particular situation of her performance and then reconfigured, re-appropriated them endlessly from show to show. The aim was to stabilize them, to freeze them in time and shape them in studio.
While Deleuze’s Body Without Organs concept always came to my mind when listening to her music — Laurel being in the center of a transformative situation, hovering above, weaving in and out of the rules of the game of life — she has truly actualized this on Chance Of Rain. It feels like another work of experimentation toward a crystallized and absolute self, an attempt to both feel and fill out the physicality of her own body, to take note of the very idea that she has flesh and blood, arms and feet, eyes and hair as a means of seeing how to shrug each member off.
This image — of a person clawing their way through shattered space/time figures — is also reminiscent of Maya Deren’s short film, Ritual in Transfigured Time. Here, Deren displays a series of social events, undulating and shading the very acts within it. When watching this short, I see that the people inside of the frames as mechanisms of the work itself, of time and being themselves. There is an operable situation in which the people fill in the time, not construct it. They may construct the actions within said situation, but they are not the creators of the moment and are forever bound to the notion of time scooting them along, aggressively suggesting that they fill in a different space.
Similarly to Deren’s film, Laurel’s position within infinite negation (of the self and of the bindings of time/history) is what makes her so fascinating, regardless of how jagged her own narrative seems to us. In this way, Chance Of Rain is extremely uncomfortable and disjointed. Retracing my steps through the record, I can only remember patches, a sketchy outline of what in retrospect seems to be a series of hazy and distraught metallic objects being strewn across a horribly frenetic space and looping time: fragmented synth drones, beats that never quite line up, discordant distance between her voice (herself) and her melodic strictures. All the while, as desperate (and disparate) as this felt, I could only feel her transcending the trappings of the narrative that defines the physical.
With no voice at the forefront (though there in a number of tracks), she has positioned herself as inseparable from her technology, her specific modes of thought and acts of expression becoming interlaced with permutability. Her relationship with technology replaces the projection of the voice, aiming for something higher than self-expression, a sort of transhumanist truth. Sterility is the key, I think; the act of interlinking her expressive self — and her gear — plays out as a sort of “brutalization” of the self, of the codified form of the body. Chance Of Rain directly presents the self as strained and cutoff, and the frozen “synthetic” sonic figures are the focal point, focusing on how they ensconce her (not the listeners/spectators) in liminal time. It’s almost performance art, situationist dancing in the way that the voice seems to be shredded by its temporal/spatial situation (when it does arrive). Within each track, Laurel is surrounded by heavily-tampered-with sonicscapes, her in the middle, bobbing and weaving, it seems, to their physical presence.
Laurel Halo’s Cybernetic Discourse (with Electronic Instruments, with Subjective Material and Sonic Particles) to “Perform” as a Pataphor (Absolute)
Performatism: The performing of one’s normative function to its logical end, thusly known as authentic actions.
1. An extended metaphor that creates its own context. Created by Paul Avion and based on Alfred Jarry’s science of pataphysics (the science of that which extends beyond metaphysics), a pataphor attempts to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor exists from non-figurative language.
2. Two degrees of separation from reality.
“[T]he cybernetician looks at his objects in a theoretical situation somewhat like the practical situation in which […] the distinction between man and machine is irrelevant and the two become interchangeable.”
– Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
Within the scope of the live setting, Laurel Halo always appears to be thinking about the ontology of the set, how to complete the puzzle. What I mean by that is, she appears to read her works textually, observing how her tones and melodic structures are edited and constructed across time. The way that Laurel sculpts and uses sonic figures in time is interesting to me, because there’s a sort of stillness in motion within a confined, determined space. The linearity of her works are sort of impressionistic, dealing only with repetitive motific developments, the act of repetition itself being the only seeming motif. To further this idea within the context of her performance, there seemed to be a motif of absence and how the sonic particles relate to the repetitive voids where a downbeat would normally be placed or where her voice would normally appear. Her sets come off as a sort experiential vacuum, dromoscopy inverted, utilizing performance to quantify and dissect sexuality — or the absence of it — and to employ its unchained codes as particulars to reconstruct the universal that is Laurel Halo as figure, as woman pushing her art beyond time.
Chance Of Rain, therefore, is a pastiche of dysfunctional (though functioning) parts anchored to pure body music, body music that is less about titillating the body’s inclination to dance, and more so about the desire to be tested and pushed to its physical limits through dance. (This too can be likened to Deren’s use of the body within the realm of cinema: Deren shakes the foundations of time by colliding horizontal structures with vertical slices, jarring the continuity, suspending the characters in spliced moments of folding time.) When Laurel applies this technique, each track has a clear downbeat, a pummeling reminder of a central axis, the parts slipping around it, glossing over it. In the titular track, there is a bashing, tempo-slowing kick that exist only as a means of marking time for all of the dusty and vaporous bits that fling themselves above it. With the title track time as it stands, the moment in which the event of the song occurs becomes desperately blurred as a motorik percussive line intrudes, grinding against the tempo until the piece dismantles into Drexciya-like percolation. Time shifts here, the motorik beat returns, a backwards looping/shattered piano lick and harp-like synth then washes it (and its measure of time) away completely, leaving only a lone rimshot as an indicator of temporality.
These little bits of time keep the album focused, as it could wander off at any moment, trailing on for hours, bending and transforming. Each track is a test of the relationship between an object and its material. The physical experience of the record is hinged on the time in which a sketch presents itself. Tracks like “Oneiroi” immediately appear to be scatological, made up of a series of incidences — which is half true, every particle, disparate in nature and function, flinging about, tied together only through what appears to be loose calculations of polyrhythmic pulses and chance encounters with each other. But this is an astonishing point. The album is beyond the material, just as it is made up by it. In a recent interview with Dummy, Laurel states that the song “Melt” “sounds like a bunch of MP3s were dumped into a vat of acid and they’re all screaming in pain.” Really, the entirety of the album has quality of consolidation and collision about it. Her work seems to extend past those of the Fluxus movement, dealing with the immanence of the heavily codified references rather than bathing in them. The collision of the medias for her is a psychovisual aesthetic dealing with the assumption of memory than the actual experience of reverie. With Chance Of Rain, she readily collages particularities to form a new whole, displacing any prior cognitive attachments that the listener once had. In this, Chance Of Rain is a frenetic beast of an album, all push-and-pull tension, with every present particle being sucked inward toward an unstable core. Built on sporadic percussive takes and blistered textures, Chance Of Rain plows through unintelligible forms — all bones but no structure — struggling to establish itself as material: techno made of wreckage.
“[When] we call a living body a ‘metabolizing system,’ we must include in the term that the system itself is wholly and continuously a result of its metabolizing activity, and further that none of the ‘result’ ceases to be an object of metabolism while it is also an agent of it.”
– Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
Digital and media detritus have been of huge interest lately in light of the vaporwave movement and the conclusion of post-internet, in which both took hold of the material, stepping out of the realm of the meta and acted upon the physical. This record does much less in the way of critiquing our uses of media and indulges its functions, allowing media to subsume the organic. Where vaporwave utilized the calling cards of the passive experience — elevator music, infomercial scores, etc. — Laurel reached directly into the ideas of furniture music with the desire to attack the passive by shaking that space. What Laurel seems to understand about our state of being is how hopeless and uninvolved art is in its present form. Art has no material connections to the events that precede and breed it; it sits in limbo, begging to be looked at and commented on, but there simply is nothing there. And even in this, there is a large distance forming between meaning and being as the tenuously contextual hole in which we deposit our experiences. There, yet again, nothing is there. But from this, Laurel rises, taking the spaces of nothing and moves it, intermittently placing objects within it.
“[F]orm re-enters the physical scene with a cognitive significance of its own. And this transcending form, an event-structure, is of a different order from that of a crystal-structure, where the form is inseparably allied to the persistence of the material.”
– Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
The idea of wading in fluxing circumstances while correlating a sense of the mechanized Self appears to be the most appropriate way to think of this record: expressivity as determined by social conditions and metatextual relations. Awareness and explication of the Self within plastic, socially constructed events — ruminations on the Self by the Othered Self — are exactly what’s needed to transcend a society founded on the socially constructed situation, the plastic spectacle. So, again referring back to Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time, the idea of social events in time is simply banal in the face of their timing. Laurel seems to want to depart from materiality, from the bindings of the physical, by embodying it as opposed to emoting, lowering herself rather than empowering herself. She utilizes the aforementioned time structures through slippery tectonic alignments to destroy time as we wish to count it: it is wholly infra-furniture music. Erik Satie’s ideas of furniture music was meant to seep into the subconscious of a space, to envelop the listener in an aesthetic cool. With media rapidly shooting around and past us, slapping us in the face, Laurel wishes to make music that reflect this experience of flinging forward into the hypertextual, as did Deren.
Materiality here is ensconced and enveloped by the vaporous. The utility of speed and the intense lack of control in speed causes her tracks to become impressionistic, built around the absence of immediate perceivability. In the track “Serendip,” we see the collision of pebble-like percussive lines hitting awkwardly, against which a shattered synth harmony dives in carried by a percussive line informed by boogie. These collisions resemble curved lines running along straight ones, her affinity toward arresting all intention and autonomy in favor of a more technocratic, mathematically-based expression resembling Deleuze’s conceptions of time, where you’re being flung through collapsing temporal figures, hanging on the outside of being; but inside, within the subjective state, time appears to be very much self-sustaining and cyclical. Meanwhile, tracks like “Oneroi” are founded on percussive and conjugated particles in disparate space. Laurel essentially takes the principles of aleatoric minimalist music (music founded on calculated chance) and applies them to jazz chord progressions. From this, entire worlds are constructed in fluctuating space. The sonic microbes, the remnants of some lost digital particle, are literally, beautifully rotated backwards in phenomenally nonsensical rotations. Laurel entrenches herself inside of figures of “object-oriented ontology,” crafting each aural particle, sculpting tangible forms from frequencies. Placing herself in the center, Laurel dances in posthuman immanence.
Several of the tracks recall modes made up of destroyed digital remains of genres, but it’s their eventual formation that makes this record coherent. One could see Chance Of Rain as being made up of a series of self-governing modes, Laurel digesting Laurel and the space of Laurel. And because of this, the result is a series of tracks where her voice becomes an ever present and stuttered sigh, and all of the rhythms are implied and accented with strokes of still percussion and high frequencies. Filtered and reversed kicks swath to become an elongated pulse, so the time signatures are duly wonky and evocative. There are glacial and kaleidoscopic jazz chords funneled throughout, like Arvo Pärt and Herbie Hancock being shoved into a vacuum. With “Ainnome,” this idea and the entire album folds together into one. It begins with a trumpeting fugue, Bach-like harmonic structures sliding in and out of position as digital flecks scrap against the edges, referring back to the notion of digital discharge, transcendence of physically/digitally binding units. A spongy bass line runs around the stereo space and the harmonies stream past it, engulfing it. This a truly clear moment for the record, reminiscent of the soaring utopianism of Detroit techno, the time-shifting minimalism of dub techno, and the sterility, the sanitization of genre and self.
I feel a strong physical reaction to these tracks, too much happening within the span of its being, and I feel overwhelmed by its absolute nature. With Chance Of Rain, Laurel has broken everything down and built it back up. All I can think of is a devastating line from Sheila Heti’s novel How Should a Person Be?: “Punch yourself through a brick wall, punch yourself through a brick wall.”