Review Summary: now listen... now listen...
There's an interview out there with avant-garde hero John Cage in which he makes a very beautiful, if perhaps confusing statement. He says: "I love sounds just as they are, and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are. I don't want them to be psychological. I don't want a sound to pretend that it's a bucket or that it's president or that it's in love with another sound. I just want it to be a sound."
This isn't the most famous idea of his -this claim surely belongs to his composition "4'33," which is notorious for making a symphony of its audience- but as electroacoustic and ambient music in general spills into the mainstream it becomes increasingly relevant. Have a think about it if you want; it's not entirely necessary here.
This is because John Cage would probably hate Not Knowing
, a 53 minute ambient/classical piece sounding precisely like a sound in love with another sound. Composed for another musical legend (it almost detracts from their status to mention them both in the same review), Éliane Radigue, it's a journey beginning with a single drone and ending much the same. In between, it's fair to say, it gets a lot more intimate.
The first 12 minutes serve as something akin to an attention-span test: consisting of nothing but a deep, pulsating rumble soon paired with a similarly translucent whine. It appears to breathe – going in, going out – and repeats with small, anthropomorphic distinctions. The wait is long, often intense and it's purgatory. It's waiting: time to reflect. John Cage would take this moment to admire the texture and nuances of the sound, but I suppose the rest of us would prefer to note how it burrows its way to full-body vibrations and nestles in the seat of your stomach like an internal nest egg.
The introduction of a quiet swell of highly romantic stings and drones almost feels like another piece of music. It's airy and dramatic: lurching and spinning this way and the other in some spontaneous twirl between ecstasy and tears. More than anything it's free, and placed around the initial throb you can't help but notice how weak, lonely and scared it makes it look. At the same time, there's a muddying quality to this new bombardment of sound which makes it clear you're not the object of the sound's affections. This ambience is the membrane though which we see the two separate pieces fall in love, and it's excited and beautiful but sadly too short; the next half hour passes in a rush of tender sighs before retreating to its original state.
Are the sounds pretending to be in love? It's ridiculous, they're sounds, but in the way we see the world we can tell the story as we see fit and have the sounds tell it back. Rarely is a sound so sweet yet so perfectly personable: a fairytale love affair where the story and the characters don't matter. What matters is the idea of love itself, that is exists, and that when we project it on the most innocent of phenomena it has the ability to bring us to tears.