How to describe and evaluate music that causes time to run in place and transforms space from optical to sensuous reality? Music that is a ghostly, overwhelming remainder of the objects and actions which produced it, that is felt from within as much as heard from outside. There isn’t much point in listening to such music unless you are willing to become immersed in it, absorbed, removed to a degree from the normal physical and psychic geography of daily existence. It is the music of an other way of being, a solitude of associations that unspooling draw closer and begin to merge with the movement and objects beyond them, eliding distance and presenting a world of warm, fluxuating unison.
Choral is the first release on Thrill Jockey by Mountains, the Brooklyn-based duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, who issued their two previous full-lengths through their own Apestaartje imprint. The band began as an outlet for performing live, fashioning broad, amniotic sound sculptures in public. In their ability to provoke interiority and recollection while at the same time making a listener acutely, physically aware of space particularly and in general, Mountains call to mind not only the work of Brian Eno and Fennesz (without the latter’s penchant for noise), but also ’70s German groups like Cluster, Harmonia, and Popol Vuh.
Expectation, anticipation—that’s where we begin. “Choral” opens the album on a note of endlessness, melodic and droning, not progressing so much as becoming, re-shaping itself as it drifts and floats ahead. The sound of bows drawn across strings form a surface on which electronic melodies bubble and flow, complemented by the color of field recordings, synthesizer, and organ, among other sounds. A sublime of slow, meaningful movements appears and washes back and forth, a sea that moves and moving remains what it is. It functions like a passageway, the listener moving through it and arriving on the other side prepared for the album in its entirety, slowed down, open and attentive.
Like other sounds on the album, Mountains take familiar acoustic guitar strums and plucks and push them into open spaces that either swallow or transfigure them. “Add Infinity” is the best example of this, a track where we seem to move from order and boundedness into a sprawl of beguiling wilderness. But however “out there” Choral sometimes becomes, it also remains inviting, a tapestry of tactile sensations and gently controlled exploration. Rather than being put in a position to recognize order and wholeness through repetition, we are free to wander through fields of sound, fixating on whatever may attract our attention, moving on as whimsically as we please.
Cinematic is a word that gets thrown around a lot in writing about instrumental and ambient electronic music and it is tempting indeed to apply it to Choral. So tempting that I will, in fact, apply it. “Telescope,” the most Teutonic of the album’s tracks, immediately put me in mind of Popul Vuh’s score for Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass, a film famous for the fact that all but one cast member performed while hypnotized. “Telescope” is permeated with the same current of cosmic vibration and mystical vision with which Herzog cannily layered his images of romantic, mesmeric landscapes. Aside from such specific coincidence, Choral is constructed from beginning to end along a synesthetic fault-line, conjuring and projecting one imagistic association after another. It is cinematic not in the sense that it would perfectly complement a specific set of filmed images, but because it produces visual images out of aural material.
Eluvium – Talk Amongst the Trees
Harmonia – Deluxe
Fennesz – Endless Summer