Oaks starts us off with the track “On Wheels Rotating.” One of the most distinctive features of this track is the cyclical rhythm of the backing chime found in the intro. The pitch rises and falls, rising again, falling. The rhythm serves as the ground upon which the rest of the musical elements are set and from which the listener gathers his/her perceptions. It is a constancy the listener can rest on: he/she can rest “On Wheels Rotating.”
What develops throughout the album is the presence of this underlying rhythm; that is, the solidity of this rhythm, the firmness of its phrase and the palpability of repetition. In the first track of the album, this rhythm seems prominent and fairly obvious, and it is considerably lulling. Hypnosis comes to mind when listening to atmospheric music like that of Ethan Rose. There is an idea that one listens to the slow droning of the album and hears continual reiterations of the same thing, that there is little to any change involved in the music. The term atmospheric may then be applied to the loose trance one finds oneself in, a light state where the ground isn’t so ever present, floating.
What I just wrote might seem a bit off. I suggested that in the track “On Wheels Rotating” there is a grounding presence of an underlying rhythm, yet then suggested that the trance like state produced by atmospheric music lifts the listener away from the ground upon which the the music and the listener rest: the music is simultaneously grounds and lifts its listener.
I talk out of two mouths here, but for a reason. In my experience of Ethan Rose’s Oaks, the idea of atmospheric music being the hypnotic repetition of a rhythmic phrase is only an idea, one that is hard to realize into actuality; it is what I am thinking the music is like, and it is these thoughts that are drone through my ear and hypnotize, not the music. Really, Rose’s music seems populated with hardly dissimilar irregularities, twinkling like the night sky not yet patterned by constellations. Throughout all of the oscillating repetitions, there are the smallest differences in rhythm, miniscule variations in the melodic sequence of pitches that are infinitely similar in so many ways, yet infinitesimally not so. An example of this infinitesimal difference is the track entitled, “The Floor Released.” The song and listener meet with many rhythmic elements at sounding from the start, and this destroys any semblance of there being a sort of rhythmic ground upon which the song is founded. The sounds nonetheless seem ever familiar, as if repeating, but the certainty is never there, not as it is with a striking set of power chords. There seems always the smallest shifts.
It could be said, then, that the title “The Floor Released” is an apt one, as this is the point when any sort of rhythmic grounding is lost entirely, but, as a listener, I still find myself engaged. I find myself listening closely for the little pieces of sound that ring a slightly different chord. It is almost like I’m reading the sounds, holding fast to the smallest clues and textual details, noting irregularities. The changes ground me, I suppose.
Fennesz – Black Sea
William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops
Keith Fullerton Whitman – Multiples