Eternelle Idole (‘Eternal Idol’) is the soundtrack composed by Stephen O’Malley for a choreographic piece of the same name created by artist Gisèle Vienne, and which involves an actor and an artistic ice-skater. I have yet to see the piece or the photographs that accompany the LP release of this album, so I will pretty much focus only on the music.
It is an eerie, vibrant series of pieces that reminds me of the dark ambient of Svarte Greiner, enacting a series of drones, their reverb-filled, delayed rumbles unmasked. What lies beneath “L’etang” (‘The pond’) of the electric and electronic echoes of a drone is a glacial silence, the chasms produced by long-duration processes, sounds forever on the verge of lingering. If ice-skating presents us with an art of the sublime, of life defiantly making beauty at the edge of the world, drones like these – stripped of their noisiest qualities – highlight the powerful sensation such an image elicits: it is not a beauty we make (short-lived, tied to a body’s limits), it is a beauty we inspire to come forth (seemingly eternal, as deep as the Earth).
This is perhaps best exemplified by “Arrival of the Trainer”, built around field recordings of ice-skating sessions where trainers’ voices are in dialogue with the speechless bodily heft of metal blades sculpting the ice beneath. Quick surges of electronic noise intermittently interrupt this dialogue, a pairing that, after the prolonged tones of the first half of the album, seems to suggest the transience of that will to beauty before the grave permanence of the ice it seems to give form to. The contrast allows the drones and the silence they seem to crawl from to become this seemingly endless force, several orders of magnitude beyond the quickly fading curves and lines drawn by artists.
It is significant that the fifth unnamed track is composed almost completely of silence, making me feel as if it had added duration to the whole album, independently of the actual running time. It is about 50 minutes long, but this completely silent interval made it feel like much, much more. A side-effect of this feeling is also a distorted sense of speed, that every note and every sound lasts more than it naturally should. The focus shifts, and I realize it is the ice what I have listened to all this time, lying in wait between each of those long notes, a noiseless drone that moves a millimeter every ten thousand years.
On its own, Eternelle Idole is a very interesting take on themes that recur in O’Malley’s other projects, perhaps ever since Sunn O))) was an Earth tribute band. Without the mass of guitar feedback and distortion, drones potentially become something else, and the association with ice-skating images serves the purpose of expanding those drones’ meaning into fields that have no ‘natural’ affinities with them. It unmasks a certain beauty to them, in a traditional sense, which is to say, at the same time, that it does something very unconventional with them. If this kind of exploratory endeavor sounds like something you’d enjoy, do give this soundtrack a spin, preferably while you’re alone, by day, within sight of a snow-capped mountain. (David Murrieta)