Oren Ambarchi & Robin Fox
Styles: ambient, sound art
Others: Rene Hell, Ben Frost, Fennesz, Loscil, Martin Ng Turntable Orchestra
Properly, Oren Ambarchi and Robin Fox’s Connected is the soundtrack of a dance and sculpture piece by the Australian dance company Chunky Move. What additional considerations now arise based on this fact? Is the musical aspect of a multimedia work separable and evaluable on its own terms? The utilitarian response to these questions would seem to provide a starting point: If the music works in isolation as a piece unto itself, then no further explanations are necessary. This answer ignores a host of approaches, preferring to engage solely with sound as if it existed in a vacuum. Sure, any evaluation of Connected will require an evaluation of the album’s merits in standing “on its own,” but the formative circumstances of Connected suggest, in spite of the quality of its sonic texture, that it will lack elements that are crucial to its proper interpretation. This loss thereby becomes essential to the work.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this loss is that Connected doesn’t clearly signify what is occurring during a performance of the dance piece. It’s fully opaque as to those details; the best the listener can do is fantasize about what sort of movement this music suggests based on the rhythmic elements and the prevailing mood. But even these elements here flee from communicating any content about the movement, as Connected’s rhythms are atypical and organic, and its meditative mood remains consistent throughout its short runtime, only changing in intensity as the pieces oscillate between tension and resolution. (This may provide some slight clues, but little content). What seems clear is that the dance piece Connected probably dispenses with conventional forms, since the album Connected does so with the traditional forms of dance music.
We can listen to operas and film soundtracks without relying on visuals, but often in opera one can gain awareness of the dramatis personae or appeal to the fictions from which the opera takes its story (both of which seem essential to its interpretation), and most seek out soundtracks to relive their enjoyment of a film. I suspect few who seek out Connected (the album) will have the opportunity to experience the dance. Thus, not only will most listeners never know the extent to which Ambarchi and Fox have composed the music for the choreography, but this also implies that Ambarchi and Fox, or at least Kranky, feel that the musical piece transcends its soundtrack qualities. This transcendence becomes a primary reason for the album’s very existence, but it also transcends these qualities while both preserving them (as those are the qualities of the music’s original function) and concealing their content from the listener, letting the imagination fill the void with phantasms of what might have occurred but almost certainly did not.
Thankfully, Connected, despite the richness of its sounds, is spacious enough to leave room for the imagination (with the slight exception of “Trios,” which teems with movement). That’s not to say it’s empty. On the contrary, Ambarchi and Fox have refined a shared palette, one that shapes both the tone of the album and the areas in which the other media of the full performance can work. Connected in itself is sonically complete. The loss of its previous context, in light of this aural completeness, becomes then a fully realized content for the work, where Connected functions like a ghost story, its tones evoking the shadows of impossible memories. It preserves the vanished movements like a curtain, leaving the drama to the listener’s imagination.
01. Standing Mandala
02. Game Of Two