BJ Nilsen The Short Night

[Touch; 2007]

Rating: 1/5

Styles: ambient, drone, one hand clapping
Others: Brian Eno, Stockhausen, “Treefingers” – all of those very generous

My friend works in a head shop, where over the course of an average day he is asked stupid questions by an interminable parade of stoner gawkers. One day, as he's told it, some fool came in demanding to know if the shop carried any pipes blown by a particular glassblower, and wouldn't let up or take "I don't know" for an answer.

"I didn't know what to tell him," my friend told me later. "Wouldn't you think that if there were anything in particular that was unique or different about this guy's pipes, that you'd be able to tell without asking?"

I ask the same question of BJ Nilsen, whose The Short Night is accompanied by a one-sheet providing a technical description of its components, which include field recordings and drones produced by antique synthesizers recorded on old tape machines. It's good that he goes ahead and puts this on the press material, because if he hadn't told me I'd have assumed it was done in about 15 minutes on a computer, using any software synth, an ambience plugin, and a few downloaded clips of radio static.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be glib. I'm not saying The Short Night fails because Nilsen went to greater lengths producing it than perhaps he needed to; The Short Night fails because of everything about it.

It's the 21st century, and process is now recognized as a criterion of legitimate artistic significance. To some schools of thought, it's as important or moreso than the experience of the art on aesthetic terms -- fair enough. But is it too much to ask that when process plays a significant role in the evaluation of art that the results should be at least somewhat striking? Is it too much to ask that we shouldn't have to rely on promo fliers which, after all, most of the audience won't even have? Finally, is it too much to ask that artists not cast their ambient drone records as concept albums about the Arctic?

And, because it's de rigueur, here are some adjectives about the cold: chilly, wintry, icy, frosty, frigid, permafrosty, narwhally, polar bearish, icebergy, Victorialand-ey.

These aren't the only clichés pushed to the forefront in the sparse environment of The Short Night; there are actually quite a host of them. For example, check out the absurdly long near-silence that opens "Front." Look, I understand the merits of building into a record slowly, but this one doesn't build to anything. The piece itself, once it gets going, is actually no more substantial than the faint outline of an ice shelf barely seen beyond the slate gray waters of the cold north. The album proceeds in this vein for ages and ages, and though the types of hums change ever-so-slowly, it's hard to care when every half-second of slightly interesting resonance follows about three minutes of sustained sameness during which it's easy to become bored. On "Black Light" we finally get something that doesn't sound like killer whales droning to one another about drudgery -- and it turns out to be a bit of static. You know, like you get on a radio. I know, it's pretty amazing, innit?

Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe the point was to load up my own glass pipe and listen again with my eyes closed, on headphones or perhaps inside of a sensory deprivation tank. I just can't be bothered. Even if, as it turns out, the use of all of this evidently expensive old equipment and painstaking process somehow, eventually, translates to an incredible sense of transportation to another place, it would probably wind up being to someplace cold and wintry and full of radios. I'll pass.

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