Landscapes Of Fear
GERMANY GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 153 2 x CD (2015)
One to disrupt the harmony of your CD shelf is this oversized card wallet containing an obliquely labeled, monochrome OS map of the area surrounding Cologne and 2 CDs of discomfiting sound art pertaining to the themes of 1) Landscapes and 2) Fear. A simplistic summary perhaps, but given the density of the accompanying text – which will assuredly sort the men from the boys among us – some distillation is required. We might ponder the dichotomy posed by these two situational extremes: the tangible and idyllic terra firma juxtaposed with the most chaotic and disembodying of emotions; security and exile – two extremes of human existence. Framing this juxtaposition is an image of a metal fence, on one side of which is a crowd of displaced refugees concealed from view by strategically placed bushes and palm trees. On the other, two golfers conducting their game, unmolested by the nearby tragedy.
While the reference to Europe’s current refugee crisis is explicit, the universality of the title’s constituents is such that we could extend the analogy to many situations in which the ‘radically diverging perceptions and adoptions of spaces’ occur in the present day. Take for example the legally sanctioned compartmentalisation of UK homes into multiple ‘apartments’ as a means of revenue generation for landlords and private investors, added to which is the humiliation of full council tax for each (while mansion owners pay proportionately lower rates), regardless of the size of the dwelling, purely on the grounds that there is a lock on the front door. Inhabiting these overpriced shoeboxes are the many who are locked out of the ever costly housing market and who face a future of financial disempowerment.
Needless to say, we needn’t look to the contents of this collection for comfort, but we might take heart that some are watching and addressing the flagrant injustices that visit so many walks of life today. The majority of the music is drone-based; tension-fuelled dark/power ambient minefields paired with location recordings for dislocation effect; splattered with rhythmic and vocal shrapnel in reference to political assassinations and other human rights abuses, as well as – of course – the kind of drones used by Western governments to police and terrorise the Middle East. Lawrence English has produced work similar in sound and agenda, but not with the bleakness of such events as Tim Gorinski’s ‘Amuse 2’ – a controlled explosion of ricocheting beats, sirens and shouting (William Burroughs might have approved of this), or Alex Pulgar’s ‘Lujk/Flame’ – where electroacoustic flames are funnelled through a tunnel of low-fi scum noise.
Hardly content with the alienating effects of such ‘music’, the compilers have seen fit to include Lena Ditte Nissen’s dispassionate German-language narration in ‘Imaginary Orb’ – which many a non-German speaker will instinctively skip – and the uneasy listening of a pair of North American accented sat-nav devices speaking over one another in Stephanie Glauber’s and Miriam Gossing’s ‘Mercure/Mondial’. Even English speakers will find this nauseating. Indeed, our agitation appears to be the overriding raison d’etre. Where so much in the realm of high-concept music can comfortably detach itself from conceptual baggage to exist as listening material per se, works such as this promote a sense of responsibility by insisting upon a level of listener interrogation.
More akin to an art gallery experience, Landscapes of Fear attains a kind of surrealism as a home-listening product. The simultaneous in/coherence of the selection, defined largely by the wilful austerity and disparity of the artists’ methods, would effect a collapsing of borders between internal and external phenomena; occasioning a discomfort that would remind us of the atrocities that take place daily beyond our psychological blinkers, in a world in which even the horror of events like Donald Trump’s inexplicable popularity achieve a circus sensationalism at which most of us can but shrug our shoulders in resignation. At the same time, the experience should also remind us that far from getting downhearted and downhearted at such horror, a constructive response is always possible.