Digital Tranquiliser

Last heard from Arturas Bumšteinas, the Lithuanian genius, in around 2011 with his very interesting CD My Own Private Bayreuth about a Wagner festival and his failed attempts to get a season ticket for the event…although of course he also contributed ‘Opera Povera’ to a Pure project called No End of Vinyl in 2013. We got Sleep (An Attempt At Trying) (BOLT RECORDS BR K002) on 16 April 2013 and it’s released on the lovely Bolt Records imprint which dogs my life so much…I think this subsidiary of Monotype Records is largely curated by Michal Libera, and it so happens that this month I finally got around to reading his book about a sound-art exhibition which he put on some time ago…the book was called Making the walls quake as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers and he compiled this eclectic collection of essays / reprints with the help of Lidia Klein…it was for a major exhibition in Poland that took place in the latter half of 2012…very much connected with ideas about architecture, and sound in enclosed space…I should have jotted down my thoughts at time of reading but some of it is a really great read, while other chapters seem pointless, infuriating and a bit pretentious…but I always enjoy it when well-read people delve into obscure parts of written history and make abstruse and unexpected connections, even if some of the ideas are a bit far-flung…

The theme of the present album is sleep and insomnia, two subjects which mean a great deal to me personally…I’m certainly on the side of those surrealists who believed in the power of sleep and the notion that real life actually takes place in our dreams. My copies of Little Nemo in Slumberland are well-thumbed…I live by Nemo’s philosophy…my favourite parts of movies are dream sequences, even the really nasty one in Rosemary’s Baby…Bumšteinas here gives us nine languid tracks of syrupy and beautiful chamber music played a small team of excellent musicians including the woodwind player Ilia Belorukov who is doing great things in Russia with his Wozzeck projects…the work began in 2011 when Arturas had a commission from German Radio…he subsequently decided to transform the music he’d written into a “radio broadcast for insomniacs”…it’s about time we were catered for…why doesn’t the BBC do something like this for minorities? When he broadcast this much-needed event (he should have been awarded 15 medals for performing a public service), he got the radio producer and sound-artist Marcus Gammel to host it and provide a narration, hopefully spoken in muffled tones and filled with strange utterances from his Bremen tongue…the songs were credited to bands that don’t exist, like The Sleepless International. That’s not a band name, it’s the basis of an entire political movement! To cap it all the actual broadcast was interrupted by live telephone conversations with insomniacs who phoned in and started mumbling vaguely about their affliction, perhaps to be greeted by sympathetic ears of fellow sufferers. I’m not a massive fan of that sentimental movie Field Of Dreams, but the encouraging idea of “if you build it, they will come” certainly seems to have taken root on this occasion. I am half-reminded of the time when John Duncan did it with Tom Recchion (released as a record called Station Event) and without barely lifting a finger, he received some pretty unusual phone calls from listeners. The gentle provocation of art can push at some doors, even if it doesn’t always open them.

What we have on the CD appears not to be an actual document of that broadcast, but it does have songs and spoken word elements overlaid on the very woozy and amorphous musical constructions, and these may have been provided by the lyricist Kyrre Björkås. His vocals are half-asleep already, or else adopting a deliberately soothing and muffled tone so that not a single harsh syllable jumps out to disturb the mood. The sound of this music is also a gorgeous experience…never settling for a lazy drone, or any expected “ambient” cop-outs, the composer is working hard…he takes every opportunity to bend notes, mould them like liquid plaster, spin them into shapes like twisted epoxy resin…through meticulous methods, a virtual “pink cloud” is assembled from this intricate scored music of his. He also coaxes some beautiful sounds and tones from these strings, horns, keyboards, guitars and percussion, exhibiting a delicacy of touch that puts many to shame. His collaborators on this record must be applauded to the heavens for their sensitive and empathetic contributions. They have replaced their fingers with feathers, soft down from an eiderdown, so gentle is their fingering. Notice also sleeve artwork that features small picture of a sleeping pill capsule of some sort and remainder of typography resembles something you would purchase in the pharmacy…but it doesn’t feel like a dose of SOMA is being prescribed, the drug which causes the brain to stop thinking, and instead the album proposes music as a healthy alternative to drugs, as expressed in the phrase “substitute for insomnia medication”. In all a very coherent statement that adheres to its theme fixedly, is bound to have desired effects for the sleepless ones, may well induce imagistic dreams for many listeners, and is like drinking a draught of liquefied golden syrup.