Review Summary: even if you won't reach it
In Search of the Miraculous is a classic theological text about a man, Oespensky, meeting a Russian mystic who teaches him a school of thought called the Forth Way. Part of this Forth Way is that most of us go through life unconscious, and reaching true consciousness involves great and complicated emotional effort. Four hundred pages later, Oespensky isn’t convinced, or at least he isn’t successful, and the book ends with disappointment. It inspired an art project of the same name by Bas Jan Ader, who set out to cross the Atlantic on a small, 13-foot pocket cruiser and was lost at sea three weeks later. It is also the name of a John Zorn album, and probably plenty of other things besides, but the phrase has come to represent any search for meaning or truth which ends in frustration, whether that frustration takes the form of bitterness or death.
Go Straight Towards the Light of All That You Love
doesn’t try to follow in Ader and Oespensky’s footsteps. Like 2012’s In a Lonely Place
, Tape Loop Orchestra has found a particular mood and wants to explore it. So instead of setting off on a musical odyssey of his own, GSTtLaATYL
’s (catchy!) melancholic beauty questions the desperate attempts to connect with more than what is in front of us.
Not that analogies to an odyssey should be abandoned completely. At its most dark and serene, TLO releases warbled violin and achingly longing siren song over a depth of swollen, sub bass ripples. One thinks of Ader on his tiny boat sailing toward a destination he would never reach, and whether he was aware of that or not. The piece drifts within this uncertainty: beautiful, anguished and resigned all in the same, endlessly repeated moment.
is not without irony. There’s an awareness that, like his inspiration, TLO can never capture and represent the soul of his project. It shows itself in the audible limitations of tape: the crackles and warps that necessarily restrict his style. Buyers of the record or CD (as well as explorers of his label’s website) are treated to similarly grainy photographs which both represent and distort their subject. Like the images, TLO’s compositions gain character and style by the effect of their technological limitations. The photographs are moody and alien, the album warm and breathless; it detracts from representing the goal but makes the journey more interesting, and if the goal is impossible to reach we might as well appreciate the reaching.
Because here’s the thing, how would we recognise truth or meaning or true consciousness if we found it? What distinguishes whatever it is from just another, more sophisticated illusion? This search for the miraculous is like looking for hay in a haystack. What TLO provides instead is empathy: a respectful reflection that, rather than casting judgement, connects the experience of anyone who pines for a kind of magic beyond what is already in front of them. Such is the plight of the artist, but really it’s a way of being common to all of us. All in our little boats, casting ourselves out towards that which is not yet known.