Mind Over Mirrors
When the Rest Are Up at Four
Styles: ambient, drone, kosmische, 8-bit ragas
Others: Harmonia, Fennesz, Robert Rental, Rhys Chatham, Brahma
Every digitized noise that stretches and spirals through When the Rest Are Up at Four is a denial of the solitary, diminutive instrument that produced it. If you’re not already familiar with the output of Mind Over Mirrors, this instrument is an Indian harmonium, which over three prequel albums has been exploited and filtered by Jaime Fennelly to sculpt drifting masses and precipitations that, in their continental size and preternatural sublimity, strove to belie the isolation and insignificance of the lone human being that fathered them. And if in previous outings said dissimulation was attained via the transitory introduction to a superterranean, all-encompassing soundworld, Fennelly’s latest goes one better by plumbing and pitting us into the expanses and epiphanies of this world, finally heightening its subconscious anticipations of communion and manumission into a full-blown, intensive immersion.
Given that most performances of the Mind Over Mirrors envelope involve Fennelly stooped antisocially over the sonic extension of his body, simultaneously keying a mantra while twiddling at the knobs and dials that populate his toolkit of FX processors, this notion of a movement towards some global penetration or convergence that dissolves the estrangement of the subject might sound a trifle excessive. But as far as the virtual world of When the Rest Are Up at Four is concerned, it’s an idealism that’s entirely justified. Opener “Storing The Winter” is an ascension that never ceases on its route to a higher, totalized plane, its palpitating, synth-like tones quickly distinguishing it from the wispy lower pitches that often defined earlier records. And where these older explorations would rest content with a droning stabilization of ambience or an eternally recurring modulation, it resolutely magnifies the volume as it progresses, hatching additional beams of light and a looping transmundane figure that eventually heralds a seesaw of vaulted static.
This surge of phasing electricity, as well as the lofted culmination it incites, is emblematic of much of the album, which in its new-found dynamism and purpose seemingly evolves as the attempt to construct not simply a vast aural world in which Fennelly or the listener can forget their tiny atomized selves, but one that, in its pulsating, amassing, and defamiliarized lullabies, motions these selves towards a harmonization and integration with their surroundings. And even though almost all music involves artists striving for an illusory or symbolic mastery over their world by means of an actual mastery over the compositions they pen, this additional theme emerges more distinctly in When the Rest Are Up at Four, with its commandingly panoramic visions of an Earth or universe in cosmic flux and its processed, multidimensional obfuscation of the mundane instrument that contrived them. During “The Fence,” this musically-implied mastery is expressed in the sustained, aureoled rays of high-pitched serenity that suppress and contain the repeated threats of the rumbling bass, ensuring in their seamless flitting from one keening, godly note to another that the lurking menace of the bobbling undertow doesn’t break out and disrupt the track’s reverie of sculpted peace.
Yet these digressions on the individual’s smallness and her trials to regain a sense of agency or power through the virtual prism of her art may be off the mark, since at times the lambent kosmische and hymnal electronica of When the Rest Are Up at Four would appear to discard all consciousness and figuration of the self altogether. In fact with a piece like “Innumerable Step,” this self is dissolved in what amounts to a very faithful sonic rendering of its title, an elongated, impossibly torpid series of chords that hum and groan their gradually amplifying way through a paradoxically finite infinitude. Either its expanding cycle and the elegiac organ measure that creeps under its surface is an exploded abstraction of space, time, the universe, or “nature,” or it’s a radical distortion of some perfectly familiar event or object, one so warped and transfigured by an alternate means of perception that it can no longer be conceived as a hug, a smile, or a person. Either way, any conventional delimitation of the subject or self is consequently eroded, and with its disappearance the album inherits a peculiar atmosphere of both weightlessness and boundlessness, as if freeing itself from the constraint a biography, narrative, or set of prejudices would’ve inflicted on it.
However, to the extent that all works of art are constituted in the minds of subjects and selves, such an aspiration can never be fully realized, since no matter how contorted and disfigured the forms of a work are, they can be conceptualized only to the extent that they’re viewed through the experience of a person, which means that When the Rest Are Up At Four is at least indirectly about the individual and her accompanying narcissism, even when it’s at its most abstruse and enigmatic. In other words, because album closer “Heights & The Deeper” is so expansive and outwards-looking, as well as so loftily austere, it’s also by this very fact immersive and inwards-looking, since if nothing else, it pushes the listener into an awareness of herself as someone who can appreciate and therefore be the counterpart to all the extraterrestrial stateliness that’s being fed through her senses. The track meditates between electronic flashes of quiet revelation and intermittent celestial shudders that rip from a sonar blinking to embody some form of awakening or upheaval, and through this large-scale, enveloping respiration, it effectively returns the individual to a conception of herself, albeit one framed and transubstantiated through the supersized billowing that threatened to subsume her.
And if — to wrap this all up — “Heights & The Deeper” reiterates anything about the Mind Over Mirrors aesthetic, it’s that it would like nothing more than to be universal in scope. It’s encouraging to say that When the Rest Are Up at Four lives up to this ambition for the most part, because on balance, the album isn’t simply the solipsistic, private, and insular sound of a lowly pedal harmonium as it moves through a concertina of swallowed dirges, but the outflow of a would-be metaphysical voice that unites its oblique melodies, spacey trills, and prolonged crescendos into a single radiating logic.
01. Storing The Winter
02. The Fence
03. Putting It Away
04. Innumerable Step
05. Bark & Barge
06. Heights & The Deeper