Review Summary: Sometimes the forces in life that are the most ordinary and subtle are the most profound and spellbinding ones.
Whereas most music aims to grasp you and carry you away and alter your consciousness and tug at your heartstrings, A Young Person's Guide to Antoine Beuger
seems to simply exist. Like the sky, and the wind, and the mountains, and the interaction between them all, it is beautiful, but it is only there, not saying much, not going out of its way to make much of a statement. The trees do not blurt out "Hey, I'm beautiful" as we pass by them. They are there to provide us all oxygen, maybe not even for that. With music notes are designed to tap into your emotions, but with nature the environment is not necessarily designed to do such a thing; that we adore nature so much may only be a psychological byproduct of evolution; those who loved their nature were motivated to survive in it. Nature, existence, and life are so achingly beautiful, but it is so easy for us to forget and not notice. A Young Person's Guide to Antoine Beuger
, although not "found art", manages to capture this elusive beauty of nature and life better than most music out there does. It is true that Antoine Beuger's music does not provide us with oxygen; it is true that its primary purpose is to tap into our emotions. But it takes a certain kind of perspective to allow it to emotionally resonate. It features ordinary sounds in a seemingly ordinary arrangement, but it is so much more than this.
"Tanzaku, for Eight Bowed String Instruments" is 30 minutes long and divided into twelve tracks. The nebulous sound of the composition, a very quiet ensemble of droning strings, fades out and in between each track. The sounds are played, recorded, and mixed in meticulously enough so as to sound like a gentle humming wisp of wind, and a screeching machine, but distant or dying, for it is soft and gentle and yearning. The strings emit various tones that seem to alternate between resonating clearly and hiding beneath the reverberating noise of the "winds" and the "machines"; whether this noise is a result of the dissonance the strings create, or whether it is tape hiss or added reverb is unclear.
"Sekundenklänge (Some Sounds, Just Seconds), for an Instrument with Decaying Sounds" is 22 minutes long and divided into six tracks. It features Taku Sugimoto plucking notes on electric guitar. These notes do not form melodies. Sugimoto plucks one note and allows it to decay into silence. Then after some silent seconds he plucks another note and does the same. After being bombarded with the understated yet profound poignance that is "Tanzaku", "Sekundenklänge" only bombards you with more longing and devotion for the miracle of existence. Each note becomes an excrutiating jab at your heartstrings and each moment of silence becomes a bout of suspense and a reminder of what lies beyond the artform.
In a dream the reasoning for the two compositions in this album came to me as being that "Tanzaku" is supposed to represent this beautiful accident, this artifact of nature, and "Sekundenklänge" is supposed to be an artist's rendering of this artifact, an attempt to translate this mystical resplendence onto the notes of a guitar. Although the two compositions themselves are first and foremost compositions and not necessarily based off of each other as I have suggested, this makes sense in a way. In "Tanzaku" clear tones briefly and occasionally leak out of the hazy, noisy string drones it comprises; in "Sekundenklänge" the notes plucked resemble these transient tones, and the silence between them resembles the quiet cacophony of the other noises the instruments make.
I hated this album upon first hearing it. The sound is mixed in so low that if you were to first come across "Tanzaku" on shuffle it would come across as a joke. It seemed like an attempt to evade anything that can possibly make music beautiful and musical. Everything about it seemed conceptual and devoid of passion. But give it a couple more listens in a quiet, unintrusive environment and you will find that this is not the case. You will love and develop an attachment for the ineffable divinity that permeates these compositions. If this kind of abstract and obtuse artform sounds like something up your alley, give it a chance.