There was a time when BPM was a pretty solid indicator of genre in electronic music (or at least dance music). You set the tempo on the drum machine/sampler to 160 BPM or more and some form of drum and bass is going to come out. Between 120-130 is where house music tends to work. Go much lower than that and you’re hitting hip-hop and “downtempo” territory. These days, it’s not so clear. DJ Screw slowed down hip-hop way past where ambient music supposedly begins, and the various splinters of hardcore push BPMs above 300. Tempo in experimental music and kosmische had never really been clear anyway. Klaus Schulze clocked his sequences from as slow as they go to so fast the notes are near indistinguishable. Modular synthesists have a multitude of options for keeping time, often sequencing not just a gated pitch, but an event that ripples through patch cords to any number of other time-dependent circuits. But most of these examples involve a single person making an executive decision on tempo. When more than one person is determining tempo, each with multiple instruments, time becomes a complicated, warping fabric, its various currents meeting and diverging at intervals in a complex mathematical structure.
Quiet Evenings’ Impressions seethes with the fluctuations of interlocking tempos, its temporal anchors in constant flux yet in perfect synchronicity. Everything from the modulation to the tempo of sequences to the length of phrases vary greatly, yet all of it moves within a larger, coherent timeline. In a work where time is so flexible, it might seem that rhythm would be elusive at best. Intimate ties bind rhythm to tempo, but rhythm is an ordered structure, whereas tempo is a mere quantity. But rhythm too can bend and stretch without becoming totally lost. It’s all in how our memory handles it. When the beats finally match up, do we remember when they last hit? And did it lock in with the beat before that? Extrapolating much further proves difficult here, but therein lies the interest: when every sound is locked into time, the beats eventually always sync up. Quiet Evenings’ rhythmic prowess on Impressions consists in selecting tempos whose beats match one another in structures that both stretch the typical capacity of the listener’s memory and interlock in still a recognizable pattern.
It must be a happy discovery for a duo of partners Rachel and Grant Evans (of Motion Sickness of Time Travel and Nova Scotian Arms, respectively) to be so completely in sync, a true meeting of minds. Impressions works because the ideas within it are so consistent that it seems impossible to tell who is doing what. There is plenty of sonic variety, but it is as if the couple’s characters have melded together into one instrumentalist. The many layers of multi-tracking create a consistency in the sonics over the whole course of the album while at the same time avoiding any potential boredom. With so many layers, the production succeeds in capturing the dynamic ebb and flow of each phrase, privileging no instrument above another, a give and take (it turns out that after 50 releases collectively, you get pretty good at mixing a record). These tides of phrases structure other, longer rhythmic arcs, adding yet another layer of time control to the mix.
By skillfully manipulating time across multiple scales, Impressions achieves something quite difficult in the medium of music: paradoxically, by the complexity of its movement through time, it disrupts the listener’s usual sense of time. Perhaps this is the motion sickness Rachel alludes to in her solo moniker. Music must unfold in time, but rarely does it call attention to that fact. Through the constant variation of tempo, the listener’s perception of the passage of time warps, sometimes drastically. Like Coil’s Time Machines, which attempted to imitate the time dilation and contraction of various psychotropics, Impressions undermines the preconception that time is strictly ordered. As we move through time, we experience not a static sequence of seconds. Our minds move along a strand of moments, their occurrences oscillating in some pattern beyond our control. We can measure it, but then it collapses. Only through pure phenomenal experience can we feel the texture of the fabric of time.