Gregg Kowalsky Tape Chants

[Kranky; 2009]

Styles: drone, minimalist
Others: Emeralds, Zach Wallace, Pandit Pran Nath

Bill Morrison’s 2002 film Decasia: State of Decay presents a collage of decaying images set to haunting music composed by Michael Gordon. As the images decompose and are replaced by new images undergoing their own process of deterioration, Gordon’s deep drones build and swirl around them to perfectly exemplify a similar aural decay. The viewer-listener is engulfed by the visual and sonic destruction, left to bravely ponder what will remain once the images and sounds vanish into the void. They're asked to think being after being.

Gregg Kowalsky’s Tape Chants asks us to do something similar, but importantly different. Tape Chants invites us to think the becoming of being. The chants/drones build upon one another, growing and coming to life within the process itself. Blossoming gurgles float up to the surface and burst with movement and color. The introduction of each new sound is the originating moment of some new thing in the world. Indeed, the chants are not just structures already structured in the world, but structuring forces within the process of the structure itself.

This interpretation of the vision of Tape Chants is, I think, better than a God’s eye interpretation. The latter would have us looking down on the world from above, as if already outside of it, like Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog.” Tape Chants does not look down upon the birth of the world, but at it and from within it. It achieves an Olympian height, but does not gaze from above since it is inherently limited. To see the world Kowalsky builds, one must be deep inside the drone-chant structure.

On "X-XI," the album’s final chant, it sounds as if Kowalsky is changing directions. The drone becomes a terrifying growl, whereas before it represented a feeling of life-blooming. The sound is one of descent — a going underneath. The very thing that animates the structure begins to ferociously explore, digging beneath its creations in order to observe itself. It is unclear whether the exploration of the structure's depths is motivated by curiosity or by a need to undermine itself and to challenge its own creation. Or perhaps it’s making its way through itself in order to explore the structure that was there before it. If so, then Kowalsky is inviting us to think being before being.

1. Invocation
2. I-IV
3. V
6. IX
7. X-XI

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