Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sounds Reviewed #5/2012: A View from Nihil - The Eternal Present

Sounds Reviewed #5/2012
A View from Nihil - The Eternal Present
(Sweet Solitude 2011)
(10/10 Admiration-Points)
(written by S.K.G. in October 2011 - February 2012)


In the best musical works sounds are like compressed thoughts. In these seldom cases thoughts are like sounds, and sounds are like thoughts. Listening to these works is at the same time an intellectual challenge and a sensual pleasure. A View from Nihil's The Eternal Present is one of the very  few subtle, uncompromising and innovative HNW-compositions this year, that  recombines thoughtfulness, well conceived conceptualism, sonic depth and poetic viscosity to a new astro-acoustic and cosmodelic synthesis or reformulation of HNW.

The unique astro-acoustic alignment of The Eternal Present makes it to one of the very few HNW-compositions, that can be used as a quality-filter against the inflation of unoriginal, insubstantial and mindless repetitions of HNW patterns and ideas invented and developped a felt century ago by Romain Perrot and Sam McKinlay.

Maybe only a thoughtful progression from HNW to a more open-minded Static Minimalism combined with a radically deconstructed, imploded, burned-out and skeletonized Drone-ism, which can be also traced back to the classics of modern experimental, electronic and microtonal music, has a chance to subvert the seemingly so safe, stable and in the end all to complacent identity of HNW.


The main weakness of the majority of HNW-releases lies in their unreflected and at least undercomplex form and content relation, which leads to boring, unimaginative and unidentifiable sonic results. The genre would be far more interesting, if more artists would start to reflect their sounds and their artistical purposes in tracktitles, artworks and projectnames (like i.e. Lungwash, Ghost, Ruine, Figures of Solitude or A View from Nihil), instead of following the all too regressive and dominant inclination of the HNW-scene towards untitled titles, pointless analogies, senseless violence, childish performances, misconceived nihilism and conceptualism,  or other form of adolescent antics.

It is always very easy to mimic an already existing musical idiom and to follow its formal logic, instead of inventing a stable and at the same time new, variable, courageous and expressive form/content relation.  It is sad to observe, that many of the HNW-artists are already unable to give an interesting musical answer to the question: What is HNW ? and to understand, that only intellectual and conceptual depth and hard work on the complexity or simplicity of soundwaves are truly anarchic and subversive and nothing else.

Always remember that musical minimalism died the day Philip Glass opened his factory. If you want to ruin the subversive potential of HNW in one year, then go ahead and open your own little self-repetitive and unimaginative HNW-factory and be the Philip Glass of HNW. All of your immature HNW-mimicry will lead to a devastating quality levelling effect in the HNW-scene. The unpleasant result will be, that the origin and the purpose of HNW will be more and more obfuscated and absorbed by a happy-go-lucky overflooding of the market with pseudo-HNW products.


The soundworld of microscopic rhythms, sonic stasis, sound spectra, sound waves and musical ascesis is a far more complex and demanding musical phenomenon, than most of the HNW-artists are able to perceive, to conceive and to conceptualize.

The result: most of the HNW-artists are trying to hide their lack of musical experience and compositorial skills behind a curtain of downright ridiculous undifferentiated and uninspired loud sounds. To be perfectly frank: they absolutely fail to reach an outstanding experimental quality and to re-inscribe themselves in the already existing complex  history of musical minimalism. But fortunately there are several very promising and deeply philosophically conceived HNW-projects around, that speak for a positive prediction about the future of HNW.

Real HNW-projects see HNW as a serious tool for the research of the constructive logic of microsounds. Consequently a good HNW-composition is distinguished by the conscious design of its micro- and nanostructures of sounds and their relation to time and space.

All sounds have a clearly defined internal micro-structure and nano-identity. And HNW-sounds are no exception to this rule ! Even the sound-design of a vacuum-cleaner has a distinct pitch ! It makes no difference at all who or what produces a sound, be it a machine, a dog, the wind or a human voice. All sounds can be consciously re- or decomposed (as i.e. Cage, Varèse or Messiaen have shown in their compositions of the early 40's of the last century).


The outstanding HNW-compositions seem to follow more or less consciously Karlheinz Stockhausen's famous formalization of the time/sound-relation in his essay "Wie die Zeit vergeht" (1957) or Iannis Xenakis' famous essays on stochastic music written in the early 50's during the crisis of serial music or post-dodecaphonic music.

Consequently the real conceptional roots of HNW should be dated back to the early 50's or late 40's of the last century. The Official Musical Tradition is far more complex, inventive and radical than the musical underground is willing to see. HNW is not a subgenre of HN and it is not helpful at all to repeat this pseudo-derivation over and over again, because this derivation lacks contrast, intellectual depth and musical competence. The combination of the aformentioned derivation of the real conceptual roots of HNW and the insight in the complexity of the Official Music History is the only way to come to serious quality evaluations in the field of HNW.

Is it not quite obvious, that it became more and more impossible to give rational arguments for or against the quality of a given HNW-work? Is there not an internal relation observable between the inflation of HNW-sounds and the seemingly impossibility to rate them in an objective manner ? But can a new musical phenomenon really survive without any rational criteria and the definition of internal and external quality standards ?

Should HNW not be seen in relation to the quality standards of the infinitely rich tradition of experimental music as a whole instead of seeing it solely in relation to the very short tradition of HN or HNW? Is it not better to use the classical intention-and-result categories as a basis for the critical evaluation of the handling of the musical processes in HNW-compositions instead of becoming absorbed in boring pseudo-descriptions of sonic textures and almost religious fanboy-attitudes for all times ?


Andrew McQuaid's A View from Nihil is maybe the cruelest antidote against this boring fanboy-devotionalism, because it challenges the standardmodell of HNW with its unorthodox synthesis of sound and conception. With his brilliantly mastered relation between expression and expressed, he manages to express  transhuman intelligence as and in sound. In this he seems to follow Blaise Pascal's famous fragment: "All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who will follow these marvellous processes?".

When you listen to "The Eternal Present" it is like an awakening from a deep dogmatic slumber. It's like a cosmic refeshing for our brains almost numb from too much gravity and simple minded planetarism. Our attentive ears are pleased by the invention of a new HNW-paradigm, which I would like to call cosmodelic and astro-acoustic. It is cosmodelic and astro-acoustic, because it helps us to perceive, that the earth is already in space. There is no need for spaceflights and spacemissions anymore. Spacemissions are soundmissions now. And listening is in itself transgressive.

For A View from Nihil's cosmic look on HNW in the beginning was the sound. And the sound was one, undividable and eternal. And the sound was lost in space, because the one is imperceivable without the two. Out of nothing the sound expanded and extracted space and time by moving out of himself in nearly unperceptible and infinitely small steps to make himself perceivable. The sound moved from one to many, from interiority to exteriority, from stasis to kinesis, from identity to difference and from nothing to something and back to nothing

The movements of the sounds on "The Eternal Present" were cleverly dramatized and designed  by McQuaid as a constant passage from the infinite to the finite and back to nothing. Consequently the sounds on "The Eternal Present" are constantly fluctuating between the stasis of finitude and death and the kinesis of infinity and cosmic re-beginnings and re-openings. The universe rocks its little chair forwards and backwards  above the void like a little playing child during the 68 minutes of "The Eternal Present".

The intricate compositorial handling of the micro- and macro-repetitive structures by A View from Nihil is heading towards the sublative transformation of our all too human ideas of a space/time continuum. Through the medium of astro-acoustic sounds Andrew McQuaid prepares our minds to perceive the transitory and nearly unperceivable non-temporal instant of the eternal present.


The "Eternal Present" is the traditional nickname for the anhuman and in this indescribable space/time structure "after" the sublation of time and space. This instant is subverting all temporal order, because it takes non-place as the event of the sublation of time. This event  takes its nonplace in the moment of the collapsing of the threefold division of time. It is a moment that is ONE and therefore outside the parameters of partition. It must be a direct and immediate vision of the intellect, that occurs in one moment and not in a temporal sequence, which is so characteristic of our sensory and mental apprehension.

The Eternal Present is not subject to the triadic dissection of the timeline. Therefore we can speak of the eternal present as an atemporal present in which all three modalities of past, present and future coalesce. This moment of timeless time is entirely above time and the chain of concatenation. It is the moment of conjunction  of the unlimited and the limited, the everlasting and the transitory.

From the standpoint of the infinite, all time is comprised in the "little while" , the smallest of demarcations, the infinitesimal point that contains all difference indifferently. The Eternal Present is the interlude of time that cannot be measured in time. The insinuated tenselessness of the intersection of the three temporal modes in this moment renders it meaningless to speak of the now in terms of the passage of time, because the quality of that instant is too instanteaous to be arrested by any instance of time. For the infinite there is no difference between a small and a large number, as before him everything is considered nothing in actuality. 

The absolute non-being of this event of the Eternal Present demands instantaneous action, since it can takes its non-place at any point in time. This instant would not be hemmed by the burden of retention or the buoyancy of protention. It points  to the eternality of the temporal and the temporality of the eternal. Maybe the only hope for this maddening and highly paradoxical existential situation is the breakdown of the temporal order as such. The Eternal Present is this timeless moment, which cannot transpire temporally and therefore must always be capable of occuring (in)temporally.

It invades a space that cannot be measured chronoscopically. Consequently McQuaid works with micro-repetitive patterns of nearly infinitely small sound units, to show that eternity can arrive always in between - any nanosecond. So, you have to be really attentive ! But even if the sounds only last for nanoseconds, they have the power to show that eternity coexists with even the smallest and most fragile fragments of time.

In his famous Pensées the french anti-philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: "Notre âme est jetée dans le corps où elle trouve nombre, temps, dimension, elle raisonne là-dessus et appelle nature, nécessité, et ne peut croire autre chose". We can assume that redemption from the burden of time (or the nirvana-experience) as well must come forth in the moment, that is at once, too small and too large to be calculated temporally. This moment must be the instant in which the almost unbearable pain of falling in time will find an eternal relief.


A View from Nihil's brilliant HNW-composition translates the uncanny archi-texture of the Eternal Present into a giant size moebius strip of primordial sounds, which subvert the classical ideas of time and space, interiority and exteriority, life and death, finitude and infinity, beginning and end.  Time is projected into Space and Space into Time. "Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit". The sounds of "The Eternal Present" work like a very clever conceived spacetime-vaporizer or timespace-atomizer.  

The almost frightening fractal self-similarity of the sounds on "The Eternal Present" reveals the abyss of a pitch-black void, which is governed by the paradoxical architecture of an infinite finitude and a finite infinity. This microsonic topology which extends over two brilliantly conceived tracks has something of the cosmic and emanative breath of Terry Riley's In C (1964), Karlheinz Stockhausen's classics of cosmic music like Inori  (1973/74) or Oktophonie (1991) , LaMonte Young's The Second Dream of the High-Tension-Line Stepdown Transformer (1962) and of Hiroshi Hasegawa's post-C.C.C.C.-projects like Astro or Astral Travelling Unity.

With seemingly giant size antennas McQuaid has received, recorded, structured and mixed cosmic ur-sounds. His HNW works like an electron-microscope for primordial sounds. It is the transmitter and compressor for the primordial groove of the universe. From the first seconds of pure sonic stasis  to the following landscapes of ant-like sound-formations and sound-transformations Andrew McQuaid explores the relation of time, sound and listener. In this A View from Nihil's "The Eternal Present" gives a deep insight into the cosmic paradoxes of life and death, because it makes the forces of time audible. In the beginning time invades all things, injecting death and finitude into the cosmic order.

For A View from Nihil time makes all things hollow and abysmal. Time breaks the primordial sonic stasis of pure beginnings apart into infinitesimal small parts and in this destroys the idea of a capsuled and anti-rhythmic time/space continuum. The sonic stasis breaks apart into an infinitely big amount of sonic atoms only carried forward by a nearly imperceptible and brilliantly conceived ur-cosmic groove. Time reveals and transports this primordial cosmic groove and makes music possible. Music is the art of time par excellence. Time is the condition of possibility and impossibility of Music. Music articulates time and finitude and sometimes eternity.

Music is the coloration of time. It is a Chronochromie to use a title of a famous composition by Olivier Messiaen. By inventing a really fantastic sound/titles/concept-syngergy A View from Nihil forces the listener to perceive the cosmic drama of a really frightening finite and humane temporality and a seemingly eternal  expansion of the cosmic order. But A View from Nihil is only seemingly following the aesthetics of an absolute beginning. To the contrary, The Eternal Present shows that it is heading towards an aesthetic of absolute rebeginnings. For A View from Nihil atoms are born never ending, every second, every minute, every hour,  every day, every week,  every year and every eternity.

One can detect life and movement even on the subatomic level, where all particles interact and are being created and destroyed continously. Once these particles are created, they do not remain static, but continously move in rhythmic motion. Sounds are produced by a wave with a certain frequency; thus with every movement, new sounds were created and older ones destroyed. It is like the text-insert to the first track illustrates it: "The nature of anything is its own momentary stasis and destruction" (cit. Santaraksita, 800 CE). On "The Eternal Present" you can learn to perceive sounds as the pulsation of the cosmic heart and to ask yourself: where do beginnings really begin ? And what happens before and after beginnings begin or end ?

For A View from Nihil's cosmodelic worldview an ancient indian text called the Brahma Vaivarta Purana (added as an insert to track two) clearly articulates this problem: "Beyond the farthest vision, crowding outer-space, the universes come and go, an innumerable host. Like delicate boats they float on the fathomless pure waters that form the body of Vishnu. Out of every hair-pore of that body a universe bubbles and breaks. Will you presume to count them ? Will you number the gods in all those worlds - the worlds present and the worlds past ?".


It should be clear now, that on "The Eternal Present" we have the pleasure to listen at the same time to the sounds of a galaxy and to a galaxy of sounds. It is at once a composition about the mystery of artistic and cosmic creation, which is always a creatio ex nihilo. All things are made out of nothingness and made for nothing. Nothingness is the substance of all things created and existing.
The soundworld of A view from Nihil is in itself cosmogonic. Under the optic of a view from nihil all things emanate out of nothingness and all falls back to nothingness. This is the ur-groove of the universe I have spoken about earlier in my review.
In analogy to Sergej Eisenstein's Technique of Intellectual Montage Andrew McQuaid seems to have tried to superimpose the two tracks of "The Eternal Present" in order to evoke a nearly eternally lasting third track in the minds of the attentive listeners. Anyone who has really listened attentively to this composition on headphones, will understand what I mean, because the effect of one listening-session is really immense.
The sounds are so immense, that they will stay for hours and hours in your mind like a static sculpture almost like in LaMonte Young's Dream Houses. The sounds are causing an uncanny, menacing and very material Blackbody Radiation in your mind (to use a term from Astrophysics metaphorically), which should be seen as a radical cosmic re-opening of the HNW-standardmodel.
In this "The Eternal Present" is a tool for a/voiding place, but it is also a unique soundtrack to challenge your innermost compass and sensorium. It is an expanding and exploding mind-matter-relation. In difference to the HNW-standardmodell which seems to see the necessity of a re-spiritualisation and re-interiorization of micro and nano-sounds, McQuaid works on a materialistic, anti-mimetic and in the end totally anti-metaphoric exteriorisation of astro-acoustic micro- and nano-sounds and sound-sources. Consequently to think, that NOISE is only an unpleasant and mostly unintentional assemblage of sounds is a very sad, common and boring misconception. Noise is a lot more than an audible/sonic phenomenon.


It is a pleasure to discover this genuinely inhuman soundworld with A View from Nihil. It is an expedition into the micro- and nano-dimensions of space, time and sound. In this McQuaid seems to deconstruct the most dominant concept of classical HNW: the misanthropic idea of seclusion with an almost childish and romantic idea of an an-archic and non-preformed interiority. But isn't it almost ridiculous and oldfashioned to believe in the possibility to stay at home in the time of space flights to Mars ? Far calls, coming far !

The unique alignment of A View from Nihil's pitch-black cosmodelic sound helps perhaps to overcome these boring and inflationary used ideas and redefine the central points of HNW. After a careful listening to A View from Nihil's HNW-soundworld it should be considered as a radicalisation, minimalisation and abysmal intensification of the Drone- and the Stochastic-Music-paradigm. HNW in general should consequently be seen as a soundworld, in which sonic maximalism should be minimalized and the sonic minimalism should be maximalized.

Following the unique cosmodelic and astro-acoustic alignment of Andrew McQuaid's brilliant project A View from Nihil, I would tend to re-translate the acronym H.N.W. now as: H.emispheric N.oise W.elcome and remind the attentive listener of the dedication of this recording to Stephen P. McGreevy (well known for his recordings of real cosmic sounds) and of his/her obligation to think cosmodelic and astro-acoustic. This brilliant recording is the starting point of something p r i m o r d i a l in HNW - so take your chance to discover A View from Nihil.

With his primordial HNW-sounds Andrew McQuaid transforms the all too subjective and humane expressionism of the HNW-standardmodell into something radical different. Under the heading of a cosmodelic artistic procedure he tries to use the synergetic and amplificatory effects of sound, world and mind to establish a new concept of cosmic solitude, which seems to be situated in an infinitely large cosmic hermitage.

The usual idea of ego dissolution through sound, which is equally dominant in classical HNW, is expanded and transcended by the idea of the dissolution of cosmic boundaries. This is the end for all totally autistic approaches to HNW. In time's of space flights, quantum physics and quantum gravity and string-theory it is almost ridiculous to have the wish to stay at home alone. It is time to realise, that the way of HNW goes from the HOUSE to the UNIVERSE and nowhere else.


In the end this composition really helps us to take a view from nihil. To take a view from nihil has nothing frightening. To the contrary:it has something re-leasing, it is a breakthrough to the senseless, non-final and forever unstable materiality of the world. In Japan, this non-temporal moment of breakthrough would be called Satori : the sudden achievement of buddhahood.
This achievement reveals, that Eternity is always infinitely close and infinitely far away. Nevertheless we are always desperately trying to get a taste of eternity or nothingness, because eternity is nothing else but the being of nothingness and the nothingness of being. 
To see this naked truth is to perceive the void of all things fully void. To plumb into the depths of this emptiness is in the end a nearly heavenly delight, because we have learned to embrace the view from nihil and to start ex nihilo all over again. To say it with the words of the famous poem by the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng:
Satori has no tree.
The mirror has no stand.
Originally, there was not a single thing.
So where should the dust settle ?

(10/10 Admiration-Points)
(written by S.K.G. in October 2011 - February 2012)
A View from Nihil - The Eternal Present
(Sweet Solitude - Infinity Series  18 - 2011)
(68'34'' min., Limited to 15 copies)
Support and contact A View from Nihil here ,
listen to A View from Nihil here.