Monday, 3 February 2020

Machinefabriek - Stillness Soundtracks II

Label: Glacial Movements Records
Catalogue no: GM040

     1.      Stillness #6 (Lemaire Channel, Antarctica)
     2.      Stillness #7 (Antarctic Sound, Antarctica)
     3.      Stillness #8 (Laubeuf Fjord, Antarctica)
     4.      Stillness #9 (Hanusse Bay, Antarctica)
     5.      Stillness #10 (Antarctic Sound, Antarctica)

It feels rather bizarre jumping into a second part of a series without having reviewed the first volume, but such is the fast-moving world of underground music that this is inevitable. Needless to say I will be assessing this on its own merits, although I am very familiar with the aesthetic of this Italian label and somewhat familiar with the music of Machinefabriek. Let’s jump without further preamble straight into the icy waters of Glacial Movements’ latest release, then.

(Also, for reference, I’ll simply be calling each track by its ‘Stillness #’ for brevity’s sake)

Our visit to the vast snowbound southern continent known as Antarctica begins when we sail into ‘Stillness #6’ and, as soon as you step on board the deck of your ship of the imagination, you’re greeted with chillingly cold winds that threaten to freeze you to the spot. Ice crackles create the sounds the movement our virtual vessels makes through the channel, and sonorous drones and a mournful howling paint a vivid picture of the steep cliffs that line each bank of the Lemaire Channel. It is truly an inhuman landscape here, beautiful yet ultimately inhospitable, a place where the human animal is unfit to be a part of and unwelcome. It isn’t any wonder that HP Lovecraft set his seminal tale ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ on Antarctica – only the truly alien could fit in and call it home, plus the cyclopean nature of the natural features instantly separates the two scales of human and inhuman definitively. It is a place to admire from a safe vantage point, but not one to get too intimate with.

‘Stillness #7’ opens out widely, just like the Antarctic Sound itself, a hovering upper register drone floating almost serenely and hauntingly in the frigid air, a platform perhaps for the reverberations and echoes that appear to reach out from a cocoon of quietude, the sounds and emanations remnants of a distant past frozen into the very atmosphere. Unlike the previous track, we feel unbounded and unfettered, an endlessly slow progression of miniscule movements and events that eventually accumulate and shape the very continent itself. Simultaneously it feels fragile, ephemeral, and ghostly, as if possessing qualities that we humans continually fail to grasp both physically and metaphorically. But stillness here is an illusion, as the sounds of running water remind us – in spite of apparent stasis, this vast place is always moving, on both the micro and macro scales.

Venturing further, we find ourselves in Laubeuf Fjord, the subject of ‘Stillness #8’. This is another one of those open spaces like that referred to in the previous ‘Stillness’, but judging from photographs it appears to be a feature that could be classed as being one that is very open yet still bounded, sitting in between the Lemaire Channel and Antarctic Sound in topography and size. A keening, whistling high-borne wind swirls around us, a spectral sound that seeps into our bones and mind. It appears not to have one specific source; instead it exists everywhere within this particular space, a presiding spirit if you like firmly and irrevocably tied to this location. In some respects this serves as a species of prelude to ‘Stillness #9’, This track, I think, is the most traditional-sounding ambient piece so far, with sweeping uplifting chords and drones combining to lift one up on subtle currents of air, propelling us into the rarefied regions of the atmosphere where the dancing sprites of the aurora dwell. Indeed, it feels more descriptive of the sky than the earth – one can very easily imagine an uninterrupted and unclouded arch of heaven above, sprinkled with the glittering sequins of the cosmos providing tiny spotlights for the colourful veils of light wafting across it. This feels cold, bright, and distant, but simultaneously warm and inviting. We are graciously being allowed to share in the dance and the bounty. 

For our last port of call we find ourselves back in Antarctic Sound for ‘Stillness #10’ – this time, however, we are treated to an even more spacious portrait of this place. Warm celestial drones wash over us gently, reminding us perhaps that all places, no matter how familiar they may appear, have different moods in the same way we do. It feels as if this is the last lonely place on our planet, a place of staggering beauty that’s ever-evolving and moving, and that it will continue to do so well after we’ve disappeared from the face of the earth, until the time the sun turns against its own children and engulfs them in flame and destruction. The continent’s very isolation hopefully ensures that our depredations will be non-existent, and that we will see the light and leave it alone. A useless hope perhaps, but this still emphasises that as vast as this tract of ice-bound land at the southern end of the world may be it is still fragile and worthy of our protection.

This is a beautiful album, gracing us with a gamut of atmospheres ranging from the frigid and unwelcoming to the warm and embracing. Furthermore, it also speaks of the continent’s contradictory solidity and fragility, as well as its movements and evolution on both the micro- and macroscopic scale. It encompasses all of its facets, bringing with it reminders that not only is it an awe-inspiring place but also dangerous, often for the very same reasons. It’s a continent that very few of us will ever get the chance to physically visit but, if you’re like me, albums like this do more than enough to take me there in spirit, where I can observe in safety and warmth. Given the climatic state of our planet at present, this is about as close as I wish to go. As far as I’m concerned this is another winner from Glacial Movements.

Available as a limited CD in an edition of 300 and as a digital download from here:

Psymon Marshall 2020.

No comments: