There is a disquietude here, a distant pain. Clara is a post-traumatic one, or perhaps pre-traumatic; regardless of our temporal location to the locus of trauma, it is beyond the horizon, out of sight, like a fading bruise underneath an autumn t-shirt or else like dissipation of clouds that were once heavy with funnel clouds. Locsil‘s approach to ambient music is still intact here, largely focusing on washes of pads and drones, lapping like waves. It’s hard not to read imagery of water in music like this, sound shifting as the surface of the ocean, irregular and patterned but with no easily discernible geometry. Clara functions like a static shot, the changing unchanging immortal cantankerous sea, slow tantrums in geological time. At times these compositions feel like the cruel quiet of the universe, not even personable to laugh at our pain. A global plague half-washes away, leaving residue and acid burns, but above the sky canters along in blue and white and black while summer heat begins to boil, agnostic to the microbial war concluded.
There is active music, of course, which charts conflict and drama in its moment. Counter to this, there is yet more music which maps the contours of exuberance or emotion felt in the moment of the event it is keyed to. These are love songs, dance songs, heavy metal and folk, songs of sex and killing, things that be they vibrant or placid place themselves deeply within the temporal context of an event. Clara is elsewhere. There is some lingering event here, but the haze has consumed it, passing beyond the horizon of memory and cognition to some other place. This approach to ambient music is not the portrayal of ghosts but instead ghosts-of-ghosts, a silence that does not drink up sound but instead ignores it completely. It can feel at times like listening to this record is like having a conversation with a tree, a boulder, the ocean, the stars; it is present for us but is without us, operating in a form of slowness and a sensorium so alien to ours that there can be no meaningful communication. In this way, it is like gazing into death or the size of time, questions which frighten and stultify us in the mortal world but are as mundane of facts in these larger contexts as to be as interesting or worthy of demarcation as the density of paper or the number of ants in an anthill to us.
Thankfully for this sort of music, this kind of grand agnosticism is a profound strength. These pieces seem not so much to tap into the sublime but to open the door to it. Most importantly, Clara doesn’t open itself up to the sublime in a manner that demeans it by making it immediately legible and stateable in human terms. This is the bleeding edge of mathematics and linguistics, the ability not to feel or witness or experience something but to capture it in the equations and transformations of language. But language, being a cage, inherently demeans an experience, violently separates it from the purity of the immersive moment by making it duplicate; when we write of things, our words cut away the thing we reference and seek to remove it from the object for cataloging and indexing. For notions of the sublime, this is a transcendent violence, one which inherently deconstructs and fails itself; by capturing the sublime linguistically, we make the sublime small, but the sublime, being infinite, cannot be made small, and so we have removed a stone which in no way maps reasonably to the thing we which to reference and communicate. Clara sidesteps this problem entirely. There is no lyrical angle not individuating textural detail which seeks to zero in on the sublimation it is expressing. It could be love gone sour, death, global warming, the threat of fascism, or the clustering seeds of darkness spotting our peripheral vision these days. It does not say. In doing, by keeping itself so formally broad and exposed, Clara remains instead a pure, smooth, undifferentiated map of the sublimity behind those specific distant emotions and moments.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.