Josh Mason‘s new transparent record is a study in abeyance: two tracks, suspended in time, in no rush to go forward or back, aware that the needle is moving toward the end while pretending not to care. The music is comprised of little dots and dashes, gentle electronic murmurings that sound like the work of Pawn. These tracks are extended studies, each over a quarter hour in length. Although warranted, it seems unkind to note that this is how long it takes for a person to die.
The Symbiont is based on two short stories by Horacio Quiroga, each piece only a few pages long. “Dying in a Banana Grove” and “Dying in a Canoe”, are inspired by “The Dead Man” and “Drifting”. In the first tale, a man falls on his machete; in the second, a man is bitten by a venomous snake. These men share a sense of denial, yet approach death in different ways. The first lies still while his mind races; the second races while his mind lies relatively still.
The music is better suited to the first tale, as it reflects sun-dappled memory and open fields, the action and setting of the story. Even the prose begs for an ambient soundtrack: Short grass, and hills, silence, leaden sun … excessive light, yellowish shadows, oven still heat. We hear the rustles and rays; we sense the shimmer and shine. As the man lies dying, he insists, still he can move away in his mind if he wants. And this is exactly what he does, as those who hear these sounds may choose to do. But while they will have the luxury of living, the protagonist has only these few minutes. His thoughts are less a daydream than an inventory of the life that he has led. While the volume rises slightly in the last six minutes, there’s no sense of finality, just a slow slipping away.
The violent beginning of Quiroga’s “Dying in a Canoe” – snake bites man, man kills snake (with a machete!) – is not portrayed by Mason. His music imitates a physical drift rather than a desperate surge down the river. The more accurate reflection is that of in the mind’s drift, as once again the protagonist’s thoughts tumble between memories in search of a hold. The track crackles and warps like misfiring synapses. There’s less depth to these recollections – the man’s final thought is about what day of the week he last met his employer – but a greater sadness due to his greater sense of denial. The track’s best moment arrives at 9:14, when a growing drone suddenly stops like a rug being pulled from under a man, a lifeline being taken away.
The protagonists share a desire to make the most of the moments they have left, a desire shared by the composer, who was inspired by these stories to make a mark now, to find “calm amidst a sea of anxiety, worry and tension”. The music, and the prose upon which it is based, seeks to motivate through the examination of life, in hopes that readers and listeners won’t wait until the very last moment to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary world around them. (Richard Allen)