Somnambule - Writing About Music

Christof Kurzmann ~ The Air Between

Sound steals in gradually – composite murky, fuzzy, white-noise laden – as if the air were superheated, humming with toxic charge. There is a rhythmic shudder, increasingly lopsided, as though caught offguard by cross-currents emitted from adjacent air passages. Just at the limits of hearing can be spied a ‘puh’ like the involunatary exhalation of somebody being punched in the stomach. The juddering becomes a jogging sensation, the glitchy noises fade and are supplanted by bass sounds like the lambent whirring of unknown mechanisms bent on syncretism. The ‘puh’ returns and it’s the most unsettling thing suggesting as it does a human element in the midst of deadly machinery. Much of this first section might be heard as an analysis of different forms of combustion: there is a powerful sense of the white heat of furnaces, fireboxes, blowtorches, of the incineration of a wide range of materials resulting in a variety of cracklings, snappings and micro-explosions.

At 11’10” a satisfying rhythmic device appears sounding like a large stamping device impacting upon thick rubber, the contact becoming complex as it resonates and triggers other mechanisms. From 14’40” onwards the pulse becomes more forceful and concommitantly more worrying. After rifling through a Rolodex of neanderthal rhythms at 19’30” the beat slows to a scraped shadow of its former self and is subjected to the blowtorch heat of the previous section.

The Air Between carries Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s open letter to Bush in its cd booklet and it is difficult not to listen to this recording as an abstraction of the collision and after effects of the two passenger jets on the World Trade Centre in 2001. Does the air of the title refer to the oxygen expelled by fallen concrete and sucked in by the fire which erupted almost immediately and brought the two buildings down in such quick, tragic succession? Given the tone of Marquez’s letter, this music might better be seen as a meditation upon the effect of war upon any population, not just an American one.

Siren-like sounds appear at 27’54” only to quickly metamorphose into rhythmic blasts and further pounding which echo with the reverberation of secondary beats. At 31’28” an eery near-silence ensues in the wake of the hammering’s cessation leaving behind only drifting absences, vacancies populated by the sonic equivalent of dust clouds, ant farms and the slow settling of materials.

Whether the 9/11 association is relevant or not, The Air Between is an extremely sombre piece of dense, sonically active electronic soundscaping. It might sit beside Richard H. Kirk’s more dystopian recent work such as Darkness At Noon. Rhythms appear to be the byproducts of processes and appear and disappear behind thick, pullulating meshes of noise. In the last minute of the piece a final pulse loops, slows momentarily and ceases.
Colin Buttimer
August 2003
Published by the BBC