Review Summary: hear the wallflower blossom
This field-recorded album, replete with found-footage and incongruent scenes layered atop of one another in no considered formation, is one for outsiders and wallflowers and people obsessed with detail
. The owner of that heavy, gravelled footstep didn’t know they were being recorded; though they were, before being placed judiciously alongside a faraway storm and the clanks of a nearby industrial complex. It’s a similar story re: the piecemeal conversations occurring towards the latter half of Foramen Magnum
, which were taken by the eternal fly on the wall and added to this landscape of musique concrete textures and shifting settings.
I’d hazard Olivia Block is an introvert. The collage presented to us here is one put together by someone who is set off into a spiral of thoughts and ideas by the most menial of stimuli -- the project of a composer who wishes to share how the world around her makes her feel. The coda in Foramen Magnum
– which is caustic and not at all easy to listen to -- suggests it sometimes makes her feel small, insignificant, crushed under the heel of the present.
Elsewhere, an ocean of static implies she feels lost, alone and aimless, before the scene shifts again and she is sat in a waiting room as strangers’ voices drift in and out of her field of perception.
Elsewhere still: she is on a beach and it is raining. There are shifting specks miles along the sand, though she’s unsure whether they’re people or just shadows dancing across her retina.
Once more the scene changes, face and hands blanketed by dust as she claws apart debris and detritus with quivering fingers. No one notices; they sit in cafes lining the streets, drinking coffee and pretending disasters only happen in certain alien corners of the world.
And then she’s ushered back into a certain Fine Arts hall in Chicago, skirting the periphery even as her own compositions come to fruition, courtesy of an entire orchestra. It makes sense that I’d love how this record is structured, as a lover of considered and elucidating juxtapositions, and Opening Night
in antidotal in texture and presentation. The dissonance is subtle and comforting, signifying blooming as opposed to wilting, and it is shapeless so as to take the form of the listener’s setting. Turn the record over, and one becomes a little less small, a little less lost, a little less drowning in debris.
The final two minutes could -- and should -- be considered a separate movement, as they act as an addendum, rendering the experience in a contemplative light. The symphony is slowly subsumed by water, and all we perceive is the sound of lungs bursting and popping underneath. It’s a pointillistic nothingness, anti-climactic until you realise that it’s the only logical progression for an album that at times struggles against the subjects it processes. The coda is the record standing up and moving itself to a quiet place where the things it has collected (conversations, memories, and even -- conversely -- metallic sounds stripped of sentiment) soften and loosen their grip.
Really, it makes sense that field-recording, in its rawness and confronting honesty, is the perfect art form for people coming to grips with reality. As Karren
so deftly illustrates, it’s the composer, the wallflower, taking control of their reality and making it subservient to ideas instead of the alternative, in which the creative mind can be quelled by chance or fate or tragedy.
In any event, this record is an honest portrait of everyday life, except for one little, extra detail: the subject is no longer shrunken and grey in response to what surrounds it. It has seized control, and it’s ready to whisper the fact, excitedly, but only to its closest friends. Strangers are still such a terrifying concept.